By Anne Brodie
Filmmaker Eva Husson’s English-language feature debut Mothering Sunday gives 1920’s England women more layers and complexity than most period pieces, allowing Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) to jump classes in a strict classicist society and embrace her sexuality without the possibility of marriage. We follow her one Mother’s Day, as she serves lunch to her employers (Coin Firth and Olivia Colman) as he leers at her and his wife silently seethes. They leave the house and he crosses over to the country estate of her lover Paul (Josh O’Connor). It’s the eve of his wedding to a “good match”, a wealthy woman from an influential family; he fully intends to marry her but he’s clearly besotted with Jane. She powerfully proclaims her freedom from convention, as she wanders through his home naked, while he attends a pre-wedding lunch with his future bride and their parents. Flash to the future and her Black mate, her writing, her measured acceptance. Great sadness permeates the film, not just the repression of the era and certain expectations of people in certain classes, but a visceral, mournful. Also stars Glenda Jackson and Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù. Theatres.
Sundown stars Tim Roth and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Neil and Alice Bennett, vacationing in Mexico with their daughter and son enjoying a bit of luxury relaxation in a five-star hotel. Alice is the heiress to a huge family fortune and she pays the bills. All is going well until she learns her mother is dying; the family packs up and leaves for the airport to go to her but Neil’s left his passport at the hotel. He sends them along and will follow. He doesn’t return to their hotel, but checks into a dive in the center of the city; he lies on the beach, orders dinner, and tells Alice the hotel is still looking for the passport. Writer-director Michel Franco plants seeds of anxiety and shock – Neil isn’t playing by the rules and we don’t know why. Alice’ frantic calls are unanswered. He’s expected to support her at the funeral. Instead, he picks up Berenice (Iazua Larios) a much younger woman, they spend the night together and every moment thereafter. While at the beach, someone on a jet ski approaches the beach and shoots a man dead, heightening our sense of confusion and dread. Alice and the children show up demanding answers. He gives none, admitting he never lost his passport. He wants a divorce but no money, they sign, then Alice and her lawyer are attacked by gunmen. Multiple twists raise Sundown’s shock value in what is essentially a character study of a man at the end of his tether; it’s heady and unsettling, and challenging. TIFF Bell Lightbox today, at VIFF Centre Vancouver April 15 and on TVOD April 29.
As They Made Us, Mayim Bialik’s feature debut which she wrote and directs is a penetrating story of a family trying to keep things together during a time of crisis. Dianna Agron is Abigail and she carries the majority of this emotionally weighty mediation on the frailties of the family unit. She’s divorced and shares her children with her -ex as her parents Eugene and Barbara’s (Candice Bergen, Dustin Hoffman) living situation becomes concerning. She’s the glue that holds her estranged family together in the ways they can be described as together. Her spirit helps her rise above the petty, vindictive, dispiriting and toxic relations between her parents, with her and her twenty years absent brother Nate (Simon Helberg). Her father is declining rapidly and her mother’s abusive vitriol is out of control. It’s a charged, unsafe atmosphere – Barbara left Eugene on the floor for hours and mocked him. In this fraught situation, Abigail meets landscaper Jay (Chu Cary) and finds comfort in his easy-going, caring personality while her parents go through PSWs like water; the slightest things set off Barbara and Eugene and the screaming begins. Eugene’s birthday party is spoiled when Barbara smashes cake all over his face while demeaning him and the few guests in attendance get up and leave in disgust. Abigail looks to her early years to find out how it all began as she and Nate consider mending their bridge when Eugene takes a turn for the worse. It is tough viewing, but beautifully written, directed, and acted and a win for Bialik. You’ll never look at Bergen the same way again. TVOD.
Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton’s All The Old Knives is a powerful, unusual love story set in the framework of international espionage. Pine’s Henry works out of the Vienna office of an American intelligence unit. They’re looking into the leak of secret materials that resulted in the terrorist hijacking of Turkish Airlines Flight 127. The boss(Laurence Fishburne) confirms that all are dead. Agent Cecilia (Newton) runs out of the room, sobbing, pursued by Henry who is not only a colleague but her lover. He heads to London to question fellow secret service agent Compton (Jonathan Pryce) whose odd behaviour raises suspicions, and he warns Cecilia to expect a visit from Henry. An agent is about to come in for an interview when he is found dead, and another shoots himself. Eight years later, a Russian operative in Afghanistan is arrested. It’s an interesting insight into the ways intelligence works based on infiltration, trust, lies, surprising sources of information, and how negotiation or refusal ends. A tape emerges of a man warning extremists not to bomb a second flight because there is a US camera on the undercarriage. Cut to present day Carmel-By-the-Sea, California, and an upscale restaurant where Henry has asked Celicia, now a married mother of two, to meet. She realises it will be an interview, but her past love for him draws her there, they have an emotional meeting and thus begins the most dramatic, shocking dinner sequence. It packs a wallop. Pine and Newton present their characters bridging several time periods, united by their connection and secrets. A tough proposition well directed by Janus Metz. Whew. In select theaters and globally on Prime Video today.
BritBox‘ ongoing commitment to creating original films based on the Agatha Christie library is a real plus for the fans – and they are legion. Lucy Boynton and Will Poulter star in a thrilling and entertaining new adaptation of that beloved chestnut Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? directed by and co-starring Hugh Laurie, launching April 12. A bright sunny day, an aristocratic blonde woman comes in from her elaborate gardens and crushes a bee with her hands. Cut to the seaside where Poulton’s Bobby Jones hears a man scream as he careens down a rocky seaside cliff. He hears the man utter his last words “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” Bobby looks for ID and finds a photo of a blonde woman who seems familiar, and a unique keyring. A man appears and says he will guard the body until the police arrive, and Bobby leaves. He runs into his childhood friend, the witty, fearless heiress Lady Frances Derwent aka Frankie and they join forces to solve the question of the man’s death; he believes he was murdered. The victim was ex-military on a walking tour of the coastline so they trace his steps, unwittingly landing in a far-reaching conspiracy. Bobby’s opening a used car business in far off London with his pal Knocker so must leave but Frankie tells him to stay and solve the mystery, it’s his bond to the dead man. Out of the blue, he’s offered a job in Buenos Aires that will pay 1k pounds a year – a dream – but turns out no such company exists; someone’s trying to get him out of the way. A couple of children give Bobby a beer laced with “morphia” and he collapses. Frankie’s a take-charge gal and won’t let these distractions keep them from learning the truth. They will land in some very deep dark waters. The witty and supple script is a gem, the tone lighthearted and sunny, despite the subject matter, the settings and period costumes top-notch, in all, a nice wee get away from reality.
Writer-director Andrew Levitas’ riveting drama, Minamata stars Johnny Depp as celebrated war photographer W. Eugene Smith a tired, jaded man with war coverage PTSD who finds purpose in using photography for the greater good, even at great personal risk. He’d seen photos of locals in Minamata, a Japanese village located next to a chemical plant. He met villagers and saw their twisted, non-functioning bodies, devastated by mercury runoff from the Chisso Chemical company. For thirty years, the company purposely released highly toxic methyl mercury waste into the ocean, poisoning the fish the local population depended on as its main food course. The horrific results – deformity, loss of senses, immobility, and inability to communicate – the victims were cared for with profound love by the villagers as case numbers rose. Chisso covered up its malfeasance and denied responsibility when Smith’s photo essay was published in Life, but the cat was out of the bag. Smith grew close to the locals, took part in protests, and was severely beaten but he got the message out to the world. Chisso lost cases brought against it but the story didn’t end there. A breathtaking reflection on systemic, murderous corporate cruelty and the brave late-life energy of the man who let the world know. Filled with incredibly tender moments. Co-stars Tadanobu Asano, Jun Kunimura, Hiroyuki Sanada and Bill Nighy. Minamata was named #3 Fan Favorite at the 2022 Oscars. TVOD/Digital now.
National Film Board of Canada’s Indigenous Advisory Committee, the NFB, 90th Parallel Productions and producer Jesse Wente have agreed to release Michelle Latimer’s film Inconvenient Indian to “acknowledge the collective contribution of the on-screen Indigenous participants”. Latimer claimed indigenous status throughout her career, but no evidence has been found that she is. The film was pulled, but will now be shown in its world broadcast premiere on APTN tonight and begin streaming on APTN lumi Saturday. It will be made available for educational distribution and community screenings this fall. It is based on Thomas King’s book and its “brilliant dismantling of North America’s colonial narrative”, and features Christi Belcourt, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Nyla Innuksuk, The Halluci Nation, Skawennati, Jason Edward Lewis, Carman Tozer, Steven Lonsdale, and Kent Monkman. Latimer plays cab driver Coyote. It’s a “visual poem” about the indigenous experience on Turtle Island (North America) the theft of land, murder, abuse, and erasure by white settlers. It looks at the way truth is reimagined as a legend, for instance the myth of bloodthirsty Indians as a danger to settlers, as well as colonial heritage prisons and high prison rates among indigenous people, foster care, child theft, and residential schools, and multi-generational traumas, as it revives the Dead Indian “thing”. Also on the table, pipelines ruining sacred lands, protests met with violent force. It’s incredibly moving, seeing the pain colonials have imposed for hundreds of years. Too bad it was delayed by the director’s acts.
In the better late than never department is Everything Everywhere All At Once from the fertile minds of The Daniels (Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), an absurdist, sci-fi, intellectual, low brow, stylish, philosophical, gibberish, sometimes incomprehensible and sometimes deeply meaningful, throw everything at the screen argument for improving one’s lot in life. That’s done by obeying multiple pre-ordained algorithms or it’s just an extremely nutty kung fu dance sequence. Doesn’t really matter because as the movie’s philosophy goes, nothing does matter, everything is bullshit, and we’re all just going around in circles. So the Daniels just run with it, pulling every kind of cinematic surprise and fillip, a dozen genres, and a family struggling to stay 1) alive 2) out of tax jail 3) relevant – with the highest calorie eye candy in living memory. Michelle Yeoh the Chinese film treasure is Evelyn, laundromat owner, wife, and mother, carrying the weight of this looney exercise on her tiny, powerful shoulders, still performing mind-altering martial arts, fighting for a semblance of happiness and love. She’s preparing her taxes with her meek but loving husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and deflecting the disdain of her newly out daughter, Joy, played with shapeshifting gusto by Stephanie Hsu. Seems Evelyn has the power to explore lives she could have chosen – a famous actress and martial artist very much like Michelle Yeoh, as she discovers every tiny decision we make alters our lives. The wonderful James Hong plays her cranky father who she meets as an assassin in one of her alternate realities, a gangsta in a wheelchair. And Jamie Lee Curtis’ Deirdre Beaubeirdra, the angry tax auditor is stunning in a fat suit, eyes glowing with hatred, a worthy Yeoh opponent. This is a film to be experienced, a semi-hysterical journey through hell, the tax office, the laundromat, and their tiny apartment – all of which come to crazy, careening life. Yowzer.