By Anne Brodie
Kelly Reichardt’s fourth collaboration with Michelle Williams Showing Up is in many ways removed from the three prior. Its power and subtlety are there but come late in the story, preceded by a long, meditative setup. Williams is Lizzy, a sculptor of female figures in flights of fancy; her first major show is coming up in a few days and she should be working hard. But she’s anxiously distracted by everyday problems, her landlord/friend (the extraordinary Hong Chau) hasn’t fixed the hot water problem, the cat loudly demands attention, a piece was burned in the kiln and her brother’s mental state is fragile – big and little problems. The anxiety she masterfully passes along to us is real and underlines the tension of the interminably slow pace. But as the show approaches, the film toughens up with the pace and we understand. Fraught emotional situations bubbling under finally break the dam, and we’re under a Niagara Falls of meaning and recognition, enlightenment. The multi-talented André 3000 / Benjamin is engaging and dynamic as the brains behind the community arts centre – and that divine speaking voice. James Le Gros at the exhibit for mere seconds. Judd Hirsch is Lizzy’s avuncular father and kudos to Maryann Plunkett as her mother who must face a disturbing truth bomb. And a big shout out to the pigeon /pigeons that did a fine job as an injured pigeon. And Williams, well, she’s transcendent. In theatres.
Sophie Jarvis’ feature debut Until Branches Bend is an ambitious marriage of eco-responsibility in the face of corporate disinformation, a ruinous insect invasion, ugly repercussions in a small peach growing area in the Okanagan Valley, Indigenous issues, unwanted pregnancy and two sisters who basically raised themselves struggling to secure a better future. Lead actor Grace Glowicki is Robin the elder sister who grades peaches in a local factory. She’s alone when she notices a suspicious wormhole in a peach, she breaks it open to find total rot and an unfamiliar insect. Her boss appears panicked when she shows it to him and instructs her not to tell anyone. Knowing what is at risk, she takes it to a research facility in the Valley and there is panic there too. The next day the factory closes and Robin is a pariah. Meanwhile, she’s trying to arrange an abortion a five-hour drive away and now has time to go there, but no dice. Now she faces the disdain of the community of peach workers – but what did they expect her to do – not report? and therefore she is officially in a can of worms. The sisters live without any plan, having had no guidance or support which was interesting, but tough, perhaps too much troubling material has been crammed into an important story. Toronto’s Revue Cinema, April 14-16, 18, and select theatres across Canada.
Mrs. Maisel’s manager Susie, played by Alex Borstein, is ballsy, loud, and sharp-witted and so is the Alex Borstein we meet in Alex Borstein: Corsets & Clown Suits– yet they are worlds apart. Her new comedy special on Prime Video finds her wearing va-va voom extensions, a figure-hugging, retro glam dress with a pillowy, not ugly but huge clown collar. Her sketches paint a picture of the anti-Susie – a divorced mother of two owning the stage with her vivid, blue, and excruciatingly timely observations. She’s educated, erudite, sophisticated, again unlike Susie, speaks a few languages and she’s not so loud. Borstein’s great writing makes this a winning and remarkable hour and a half, mostly about her personal life ( although she manages to out Linda Hamilton as celibate for fifteen years) and hilariously brainy zingers and her thoughtful ones “How do I control how I’m perceived?” along with her philosophical meanderings. Borstein shares the time someone gave her an artisanal pad infused with lavender and mint. Ouch! And the mouth on her! She’d make hardened sailors blush, and her parents are right there in the front right of the theatre. Talk about ballsy. Did not know she does Broadway musical vocal stylings really well and sings with her Barcelona-native musicians, mentors, and muses, Eric Mills and Salva Rey. Time flies by and before you know it, this memorable whimsical, brilliant, earthy show is over. April 18th.
The black and white, wordless “ambient” horror film Leda, a “reimagining of the Greek myth Leda and the Swan” is a fascinating experience. Its most unusual experimental style takes a while to get into but it’s amply rewarding. Leda (Adeline Thery) is a young woman living in an elegant manor – reminiscent of a southern slave-era plantation – and wafts about the countryside and woods, in the water, and through the manor house. She embodies darkness in the light-filled early chapters. She’s alone, except for a maid, her beloved father dies in a fox-hunting accident, and her mother, equally adored, succumbs to tuberculosis. An occasional person happens by, but she doesn’t interact. Leda’s pregnant, in keeping with the Leda myth, raped by a swan or a dream of a swan. Time passes as she explores her dreams and thoughts, mourning, holding her belly, and remembering. She’s a ghostly, grief-stricken figure whose hallucinations take her in and out of reality but what is reality? A baby human son of a swan? Director Samuel Tressler IV’s seductive style is grand and natural, many things at once, and in all, it’s a fascinating trip and a film fest darling. Co-stars Douglas Cathro and Todd Mazzie. On region-free 3D/2D Blu-ray or DVD and TVOD.
Another Pre-Code gem from Kino Lorber is available on DVD now – Director Erle C. Kenton’s Search for Beauty, a tongue-in-cheek naughty romp starring an almost unrecognisable Ida Lupino, matinee idol Larry Buster Crabbe and familiar characters including James Gleason. Lupino and Crabbe are Don and Barbara, two Olympic athletes some shady entrepreneurs believe will draw readership for their magazine. But do Don and Barbara know the alleged “health” magazine will be chock full of shots of them exercising in bodycon gear and slanted to the salacious? I guess in 1932, women stretching and touching their toes was titillating, same with beefcake models. The owners launch a florid (even by modern standards) publicity campaign before Barb and Don realise they’ve been misled. It’s all comedy and fun and modern audiences may flinch at the cagey sex-addled methods the bosses use to boost circulation. The kids get wise and fight back, sometimes seeming in positively Puritanical ways. Sweet reward – the kids get to build a Health Farm and live their lives the way they want to. As you know Pre-Code films were loaded with sly, and outright sexual references and deeds, some shocking to even 2023 audiences, until the Hayes Office responded with strict rules that changed the Hollywood landscape. P.S. Take a look at the poster adorning the DVD cover. See?