By Anne Brodie
Perfect Days, Wim Wenders’ meditation on the everyday is a deep delight. Days in which a toilet cleaner carries out his morning and evening routines, does his job, takes a few simple pleasures and glory in the beauty of life, within busting Tokyo, with occasional human contact. C’est la vie. Koji Yakusho is Hirayama, a toilet janitor journeyman whose thorough, detailed cleaning of public rest stations is not just a job, but a calling for a man of habit and precision. In the morning, he folds up his bed precisely and unfolds it precisely at night. Driving from toilet to toilet he smiles, listens to American rock of the 60s and 70s from his tape cassette collection, and finds wonder in the fluttering patterns made by trees and leaves against the sun; he photographs them. Life is good. A young co-worker takes him to a cassette shop to convince him to sell his collection and give him the money to go out on a date that night. The lad’s potential “date” shows up at Hirayama’s truck to listen to a cassette, he returns a toddler crying in a toilet to his mother and finds himself sitting opposite a curious young woman on a park bench twice, and his long-lost niece shows up. Small moments, writ large by the ordinary context in which Wenders frames them, in Hirayama’s “perfect days”. Exquisite. TIFF Lightbox and the Varsity, Toronto Feb. 7, Vancouver Feb 16th and wide Feb 23.
A strong film and contrasting experience, Nikolaj Arcel’s The Promised Land stars Mad Mikkelsen. It is 1755 and Danish / German Captain Ludvig Kahlen, a proud, distinguished veteran lives in poverty on a government subsidy. He envisions a better future for hundreds of citizens by taming an empty heath, considered uninhabitable; it’s rocky with poor soil, exposed and in the middle of nowhere. The King owns all of Denmark’s empty lands and permits him to build. In return, Kahlen will receive a noble title, his own lands and restore his standing. His nearest neighbour is wealthy young aristocrat Frederik de Schinkel (Simon Bennebjerg), a sadist whose staggering abuse of servants brings a couple to Kahlen’s homestead seeking shelter. Their backbreaking work working the heath begins; local thieves threaten them, someone is stealing his meagre livestock and de Schinkel claims the land, launching a brutal campaign of intimidation. So a primal battle of wills as alarming and dramatic as this reviewer has seen in a while. de Schinkel finds joy in torture and murder; the couple leaves the heath in fear of him, so Kahlen hires local highwaymen and women to till the rock fields. Anmai Mus (Melina Hagberg) a little girl comes into his life, she’s as headstrong and determined as he is. The final chapter’s savagery, torture, and madness take the breath away; all the more stunning because the film is based on fact. Buckle up for a very hard ride – albeit beautifully executed. Denmark’s 2024 Oscar entry. Theatres in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
Three teenage English girls carry writer/director Molly Manning Walker’s weighty abuse drama How to Have Sex effortlessly and leave lasting emotional marks. Skye (Lara Peake) Em (Enva Lewis), and virgin Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) head to Malia on Crete for a wild weekend for sunseeking Brits cavorting, drinking, and “getting laid”. Spirits are high as the girls check into the hotel room overlooking the pool party area. Boys on the balcony next door take notice of them in their skimpy attire and they throw their lots together. Manning Walker’s devastating, multi-award-winning party on story morphs into a provocative thinkpiece when Tara’s nonchalantly raped – twice – by one of the boys. She is unable to respond, in shock, not sure how it happened or how to react, and her magnetic, fun-loving attitude vanishes. She’s now masking anger, sadness, and horror. One of the boys and Em intuit what happened and support her, but she’s immobilised. Simply shot in continuous naturalistic sequences, many seemingly unrehearsed, Manning Walker’s precise direction and that jewel of a script inspire a deeply emotional, primitive response. Select Canadian theatres on Feb. 9 including TIFF Lightbox.
Canadian-born writer-director Molly McGlynn paints an engaging, honest portrait of sixteen-year-old Lindsay (Maddie Ziegler) in Fitting In, as she navigates high school, boys, and her single mom (Emily Hampshire) like most teens. She’s a loving daughter and an empathetic friend, but still doesn’t have her period. A brusque male doctor diagnoses her with MRKF syndrome; she was born without a vagina and womb, turning her life plan to ash. Her mother is pained but keeps an even keel, while Lindsay undergoes various stretching exercises and considers surgery. She’d just begun a chaste romance with Adam (Reservoir Dogs star, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai ) and panics when the possibility of sex arises. Her new non-binary friend Jax (Ki Griffin) supports her and they have a brief romantic interlude, but Lindsay’s struggling. She drinks too much at a party one night and lets her diagnosis slip and then must face school – news travels fast. The movie’s brilliantly subversive, upending sexual assumptions and stereotypes with wit, humour, and great courage. It’s refreshing to see such intimate material handled with the care and grace it deserves, allowing it to become a rallying cry for young people. A real joy. Janelle Monáe is an executive producer. In theatres now.
The family drama Suncoast on Disney+ Canada based on filmmaker Laura Chinn’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story deals with a fraught mother-daughter relationship failing under the strain of a dying son and brother. The family dynamic is under a hot spotlight and shares screen time with Doris’ (Nico Parker) journey into acceptance at school. Feeling lonely and ignored by her embittered mother (Laura Linney) who dotes on an unresponsive Max (Cree Kawa) but treats Doris badly, she finally has a shot at filling the hole home life has left in her heart. Common sense Doris is welcomed into a mean girls’ crew when she offers her humble home for parties. Her mother’s sleeping on a cot next to Max at the care facility so the kids gather regularly for booze, drugs, and strip games. She meets Woody Harrelson’s Paul, part of a permanent protest group in front of the home in which a young woman is about to be unplugged. Doris’ girl gang understands and supports her and offers her the life of the average teen. Interesting portrait of a bad mother whose dedication to one child far outweighs the value – to her – of the second. And a lively portrait of teen life, the best parts of the film set against Doris’ sad, cold life as her mother’s daughter. A mixed bag.
Sir Richard Attenborough, whose tremendous work in presenting and interpreting our natural world to us is unmatched, has a new mindboggling documentary, Attenborough and the Jurassic Sea Monster. The recent discovery of a 150-million-year-old skull embedded into a rocky cliff face in Dorset, England brings us face to terrifying face with a brand new species of Pliosaur, an enormous prehistoric marine reptile who ruled the seas when dinosaurs ruled the land. The skull size, once painstakingly removed from the cliff at great peril for the diggers, indicates that the beast was 10 metres long. It was ideally equipped to capture any prey with a horrifying set of monster teeth, and great speed. It “sensed” prey via a network of sensory holes on its head and was extremely strong, the perfect apex predator. Unstoppable. The beauty of the find is that relics that ancient are often damaged or shatter during extraction but this one, thanks to the dedicated team is intact, is in superb shape, and offers up a treasure trove of information about its nature and the world it inhabited. Just stunning. BBC Earth Feb 14. and also available on Prime Video.
APTN Lumi‘s new romantic comedy web series Jason tells the tale of an older woman and a younger man – her best friend’s little brother – and the joys and pitfalls of new beginnings. Jason (Peter Robinson) is new to the city, he’s left the rez for college life in Vancouver and feels anxious. He meets Karen (Tanis Parenteau) his sister’s best friend, who is twice his age. They haven’t seen each other in a decade when he was a child, but there is an immediate attraction, pushed by her aggressive flirtation. They take a big step, he’s vulnerable and she’s domineering and in a way, getting back at her rageaholic live-in boyfriend who refuses to spend time with her. Jason and Karen send one another spicy texts and photos. Naturally her live-in sees them. Meanwhile, his sister is furious with Karen. It raises all kinds of alarms, from Karen’s predatory attentions towards a young man struggling to find a new path and the concern his family feels, while Karen goes blissfully along getting what she wants until she doesn’t. Bold stuff. Valentine’s Day Feb 14.
They call it an “Underground Anarchic Epic”. Believe them. Hundreds of Beavers, a zany, surreal mind meld set maybe in the 19th century, maybe today, in the deep woods in deep winter and loaded with quirk hits the Fox Theatre in Toronto Feb 10. Follow the adventures of a mostly half-naked-in-the-knee-deep-snowy-woods applejack salesman who encounters all manner of beings, some cartoon, some giants in beaver suits, randy rabbits, dastardly icicles, sharpened tree trunks eager to kill, supersized snowballs, mean shopowners and, well, the list of opponents is long. Our hero, Jean Kayak (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) is a slapstick everyman just trying to sell some hooch, find a gal, and survive the landscape that wants him dead. It was shot over four years, understandable because it vibrates with energy even as our hero is in the snow 99% of the time, like I said, half-naked. A sly mix of animation, stop motion, black and white, and virtually wordless, Beavers begs the question “How in heck did they do it?”. The screen explodes with offbeat, utterly outrageously funny bits, and plenty of original songs you just know are nutty if you could only make out the lyrics. A masterpiece of mayhem, pleasing to the eye and heart, somehow timeless and unforgettable. It’s a tad long for such energy, so pace yourself. Take a look:
Cobweb from Korean director Kim Jee-woon starring Song Kang–ho who you know from Parasite is many things – horror, thriller, puzzle, satire, whodunnit, comedy, and ultimately utter chaos. A film production company working under a woman who has just inherited the job has wrapped on “Cobweb”, from auteur Director Kim. But he’s not happy; he dreams a new ending and insists the cast and crew return “for one day’s work”. Famous last words. Beautiful to look at with sweeping cinematography of the film within a film, in an ancient grand home, seen in deep contrast light and shadow, black and white, suggesting labyrinths of despair and beauty. And then there’s the film production office, LED lit, buzzing with cast and crew voicing their complaints, harried actors who show up against their will, and mutiny just bubbling under the surface. Kim’s alone on his desire, nay, an obsession to reshoot the ending. He risks his career and reputation trying to repair his “self-proclaimed masterpiece”. His assistant understands that the new ending will elevate the film to great heights and make his legacy, the boss agrees but that doesn’t stop the whining. The state censor shows up; he could shut it all down. but like the rest of the cast and crew, Kim’s desire offers them no choice. It’s a go. Diva-ish actors have him in a corner and angle for rewards for showing up Funny, poignant, aggravating, entertaining, and flawed, which doesn’t mean it’s not worthy. It is worthy and it’s fun. Movie-making divas are always excellent fodder for satire! TVOD.