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By Anne Brodie

Chicago native Minhal Baig’s lyrical drama We Grown Now follows two best friends living in the notorious Cabrini-Green projects at the height of its drugs and crime waves. Malik (Blake Cameron James) and Eric (Gian Knight Ramirez) are spontaneous fun-loving kids, who love to jump on mattresses (“the closest you can get to God”), skip school, and ask each other big questions. Malik lives with his hardworking mother (Jurnee Smollett), grandmother (S. Epatha Merkerson) and sister, and Eric with his stern widowed father (Lil Rel Howery). Both live in poverty but are happy enough. One day they skip school to go to the Art Institute where they are moved by the works they see, but come home to angry and upset parents. They were frantic, learning the boys weren’t at school because they knew the potential for bad things in the projects. One day tragedy strikes when a seven-year-old boy, in real life Dantrell Davis, whose mother consulted on the film is shot and killed.  Armed police break into the building and search the units at 2 am, terrifying the families. The mainly Black residents had come north and settled in Cabrini Greene seeking relief from violence and racism down South, and now they face the same fears from law enforcement.  The boys cling to each other for safety and comfort but things are about to change when Malik’s mother lands a job that will pull them out of Cabrini-Green and poverty. They’ll move to Peoria.  Handled with tenderness, and a lovely sense of childhood, We Grown Now is compelling and as a cinematic work unusually beautiful. Cabrini Green was torn down in 2011. In theatres including TIFF Lightbox.

After The Flood isn’t just a perplexing small-town British murder mystery – it’s also a call to action on climate change. The effects of a flood, caused by global warming, wreak havoc on a community – tragedy, overwhelming ruin, and helplessness as sch floods have done in real life around the world. Melting glaciers, nearer to the UK than to us, and other elements routinely upset climate patterns we know and understand. BritBox’s 6-parter debuting May 13 takes us inside the disaster from the POVs of the citizens, in shock and mourning deaths, those who survived but lost everything, and the new reality of living rough and finding food, so suddenly upon them. One man jumps into a raging river to save a baby being rushed forward and underwater; he nearly loses his life after being pulled seven miles downstream, but both are saved. Just before the flood, PS Joanna Marshall, played by Sophie Rundle, discovered the murdered body of an unknown man in the elevator of an underground parking lot, placed there after his death. The killer might have expected the water to obscure the cause of death. Marshall continues searching the town and discovers an elderly couple dead in their home due to CO2 poisoning, likely caused by the flood, and yet another body. People are suffering from E. coli illness on a large scale, just the beginning of the horror of floods in a populated area. Oh, and Marshall is heavily pregnant and refuses to take time off.  Her bosses order her to stay home when she faints, but she’s obsessed with the elevator man and what befell him; she obtains his DNA and ID and manages to locate his sister in France; she tells Marshall her brother’s been dead for years. Just the beginning of the mess churned up by the flood. And what ho! A development company’s illegal dumping worsened the outcome of the flooding. A lot that was beneath the surface is revealed in this gripping series that has so many symbols and allegories we’d be wise to note.

Buckaroos and cowboyin’ are ages-old professions in America’s backcountry and Craig Rullman’s documentary The Outside Circle: A Movie of the Modern West explores it via three longtimers. Len Babb a cowboy and artist who at 90 still ropes cattle, leads cattle drives – he owns 9600 cows – and tells stories about life on the range.  Victoria Jackson, a Paiute-Shoshone world rodeo champion carries on her cultural and familial legacy in the Great Plain, a legacy that reaches back 14 thousand years. The Murphys, fifth-generation Oregon ranchers are teaching its youngsters to do what they do and they’re good, co-leading cattle drives and tending to the myriad of jobs that go into raising cattle and horses. Its tough work and a lifestyle suited to certain people; but they lift it with humour, storytelling, and, during the winter months, plenty of creativity. It finds expression in painting, creating leather goods, or metalwork to make the highly decorative “accessories” in demand by cowboys – fancy spurs and belt buckles, leather belts and harnesses, and even horse décor.  Across the board, the uniform is the same, crisp, colourful ironed shorts, tight jeans, a hat, and excellent boots.  In winter they work outside in minus 40-degree weather and in the summer in roasting temps, it’s hard, painstaking physical labour but these folks know nothing different; they share a can-do attitude and expect and prepare for hardship without complaint. Overall, they’re a jolly bunch who love the lifestyle and promote faith, family, friends, and community. You’ll note loyal “boss” dogs who ride with the cowboys, wrangle the herds, and know cows. Note to the squeamish, calf harnessing, and branding as part of the culture.  Now on Prime Video

History buffs take note! Hulu and Disney+’ Shardlake, set in 1536, is a murder mystery series during Henry VIII’s iron rule. It concerns rumours of the internecine war as he closed Britain’s Benedictine monasteries to establish his own non-Catholic Church of England. Arthur Hughes leads the four-parter as the brilliant Matthew Shardlake a lawyer who works with the King’s advisor Sir Thomas Cromwell (Sean Bean) and suffers from scoliosis which hampers his authority and dignity; he’s accompanied by John Barak (Anthony Boyle), an insightful man of action to enforce Shardlake’s efforts and protect him. Shardlake can handle himself and attackers with ease with hard- won physical skills. While there, they learn of more deaths that were covered up and a young, frightened monk dies in a fall. Plenty of atmospheric dread, political coverups, espionage, and deceit as the unsophisticated monks try to hang on to all they’ve known so that Henry can end Catholic domination of England, and divorce his wife to marry another woman. Henry made a habit of executing wives he no longer wanted, some of the characters we meet attended her execution and knew Anne Boleyn’s alleged lover Matthew Smeaton. Occasionally, the lead characters turn to the camera to deliver soliloquies, foreshadowing Shakespeare. The dank, grim, cavernous monastery is one of those “closed” places where the great mysteries lie and once back with Cromwell, the danger grows and all shrink in fear. Fascinating! Shardlake is based on the first of C.J. Sansom’s bestselling Tudor-era mystery novels. On Disney+ now.

Two Oscar winners not to be missed, coming to CBC Gem. On May 15 the Palme d’Or and multiple Oscar-winning film Parasite from Bong Joon knocked our socks off.  The clever, impossibly entertaining story about the Kims versus the Parks, wealth versus poverty, greed versus fear and the hair-raising connections between them is the very definition of original. It’s so out there, so wildly amusing that Trump came out to dump on it.  Another reason to watch and enjoy.

Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking Oscar-winning film Boyhood also on CBC Gem May 17 was shot over 12 years as young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grows up before our eyes. His parents played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke kept the project under wraps all that time. So, when it landed, Boyhood took the box office by storm.  It is a beautiful, fictional film, tender, rough, lifelike, and all contained in its passage of time. Linklater’s portrait of a boy child as he forms himself and crosses the threshold to adolescence and teenager is one for the books.

The Academy of Country Music Awards airs on Prime Video May 16 live from the Ford Center at the Star in San Francisco. The ACM Awards, one of the most watched and critically acclaimed awards shows of 2023, returns with the biggest stars of the genre and live performances exclusive to the night.



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