The Call of the Wild based on Jack London’s enduringly popular wilderness novel concerns Buck the dog, who enjoyed a life of privilege, a pampered pet sold as a working dog to Yukon gold miners plunges into the frozen north and wide-open spaces. New owners” a Canada Post employee (Omar Sy) and his wife (our own Cara Gee) face dangers along the way and Buck, with his newfound natural strength and heroism, saves the day and their lives. But they must return to Montréal; he’s left behind to find a kindred spirit in a woodsman (Harrison Ford). Together they seek a peaceful life in the wilderness but their adventures hinge on survival as they face powerful enemies – greedy prospectors, fierce elements and the creatures that roam the woods. Buck’s encounters are harrowing; he experiences intense cruelty at human hands and murderous animal attacks, but he is always the better angel whose spirit can’t be broken. Ford seems at home in the role of woodsman/loner and with the CGI. The film follows the Disney animal movie formula, laying on thickly the horrors of existence, then delivering big rewards for maximum impact. Directed by Chris Sanders and co-stars Dan Stevens going against type as a violent psychopath.
Retirees played by Liam Neeson and Leslie Manville are about to embark on a journey that will challenge their long-term marriage and ideas of who they are. Ordinary Love, directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn is a heart-tugging, unsentimental story of a union changed when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. They are indeed an ordinary couple, honest and kind to one another, things are quiet as their daughter died recently, life goes along in their well-appointed home and world. They share morning walks by the sea and enjoy the “golden years” until she finds a cancerous lump. Aggressive treatment begins, she’s in shock and his response is to be optimistic and cheer her up. Their dynamic shifts, he’s terrified to be left alone if he loses his wife, as well as their daughter and she begins to snipe at him and refuses to take the medication. It’s a long, loaded struggle, much of it silent. The extraordinary performances bring Ordinary Love into a rarefied place where everything is experienced by us.
Corpus Christi from director Jan Komasa was Poland’s Best International Film entry at this year’s Oscars and no wonder. It’s superbly made, a haunting portrait of Daniel, a convict (Bartosz Bielenia) posing as a priest. He underwent a spiritual awakening in youth detention but his criminal record bars him from becoming a priest. Once out of prison he poses as a travelling priest in order to serve a rural community and have the religious transformation he craves. He must slide in and out of various personas depending on circumstances, a remarkable and duplicitous accomplishment he easily pulls off. Daniel’s charm and manipulation no doubt played parts in his crimes, but he believes he’s now using his “gifts” to honour God by testing his dedication and religious convictions and find forgiveness. Much food for thought. We want him to succeed, but are we complicit? An engrossing puzzle.
Toronto-filmed Space & Time directed by Shawn Gerrard follows two thirty-year-olds who realise their relationship isn’t working. Steven Yaffee as Sean and Victoria Kucher as Siobhan, are at a crossroads, weighing the benefits of living together and finding them wanting. She’s an ambitious academic physicist and wants to study in Geneva and he’s an underemployed photographer. The dialogue’s twee and the characters are front and centre with their flaws, c’est la vie, as their carping grates, helping nobody. Siobhan seriously wants to know if there is a parallel universe in which they can be happy. He’s just losing the battle of succeeding; they dabble in affairs and psychics and wallow. Thank goodness for Siobhan’s empathetic sister Frances (Alex Paxton-Beesley) or all common sense would be lost, as would my patience. I’m no psychic but I could tell her what’s wrong and fast. It was shot in and around a recognisable Toronto.
Elvis Presley’s granddaughter Riley Keough stars in the Hammer horror The Lodge and so does her father Lisa Marie Presley’s ex Danny Keough. Danny plays her film father, a cult leader who prayed his congregation into mass suicide to atone for their sins. Riley’s Grace was the sole survivor, sent out to evangelise, the hook on which this snowy noir hangs. Grace is engaged to Richard Armitage’s Richard. He tells his wife played by Alicia Silverstone he’s divorcing her and she takes her life. Grim opening. Cut to Grace, Richard and his resentful son and daughter heading to an isolated mountain cabin for Christmas holidays. He’s called back to work leaving the three behind to sort their differences in howling winds and snow. The kids prank her; she struggles to stay sane as her medication and dog go missing. The stress causes the underlying cult damage to flower; she’s disintegrating and a danger. As far as horror goes, it’s a tad slow and repetitive, a trifle of a film, but Keough is seriously convincing as an interloper who is besieged, hated and deeply disturbed. Also points for bravery as she’s in the frigid lake a lot!
Al Pacino makes an incredible transformation in Amazon Prime Video’s intense conspiracy thriller series Hunters. He’s a wealthy, charming figure with a secret life as a Nazi hunter in 1970s New York City, his physical being, movements, language and persona are deeply created. Jordan Peele executive produces so there is a hint of horror, which Pacino handles with dignity. Pacino leads a motley crew of fighters who seek to annihilate Nazi war criminals living in the US; there is evidence that Nazis are launching a Fourth Reich, led by a formidable charismatic leader played by Lena Olin. Logan Lerman is Jonah, a teenager whose grandmother was murdered and unbeknownst to him, was a seminal figure in the Hunters movement; he joins for revenge and turns out, he’s a good player. Meanwhile, the FBI is looking into the gassing death of a German NASA scientist in Florida. Wow. Not for the squeamish but rather timely with the rise of right-wing and Fascist thought around the world today. Also stars Carol Kane, Saul Rubinek and Dylan Baker as a former Commandant of Buchenwald concentration camp posing as a southern accented rich suburbanite who loves a good barbeque.
Billy Crystal may have put in his finest performance in the comedy-drama Standing Up, Falling Down now on DVD and VOD. Is there nothing the man can’t do? He stars with comic Ben Schwartz, Eloise Mumford and Jill Hennessey (!) Grace Gummer and Nate Corddry in this sweet, relatable story of a young comic who moves home to his parents on Long Island after failing to make it in Hollywood. And he’s still nursing a broken heart about his ex- who is about to be married. He’s off to drown his sorrows in a local bar when he meets Marty an hilariously out of control, alcoholic dermatologist. Marty reminds me of Truman Capote who was funny, in yer face, biting, sarcastic, well-spoken and adored, at least by barflies. He’s high energy and can hold a room. In truth, he is desperately lonely and estranged from those he loves most. The pair bond and help hold one another together even if it means riotously wrecking a funeral. One day Marty’s in a car accident. The film’s deft and beautifully scripted with terrific performances by each and all. I loved watching Crystal.
On DVD and VOD is Come As You Are, a sweet, spicy and affecting road trip movie about three guys with disabilities (Grant Rosenmeyer, Hayden Szeto, and Ravi Patel) who want nothing more than to escape their dreary, closed lives and lose their virginity. Opportunity knocks in the form of an ad for a brothel in Montréal catering to special needs clients. They plan a road trip and leave under cover of night to avoid overprotective parents; nurse Sam (Gabourey Sidibe from Precious) drives and cares for them and is never judgmental. Phones are ditched to avoid being tracked as they head to Chicago and on to Quebec, facing comic and troubling complications at every turn. The spirit is strong, and they finally arrive at the secluded mansion and the promise of fulfilling their shared dream. Darkly comic and edgy dialogue is intensely witty but doesn’t shrink from the pressure of facing life on their own for the first time. Sidibe is the tender, but the tough heart of the film, and the actors while not disabled, are portrayed with great commitment. It’s based on the Belgian film Hasta La Vista, inspired by the life of Asta Philpot, who’s in the film.
CBC Gem now features Tasha Hubbard’s award-winning documentary nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, following one of the worst cases of homicidal racism in Canada. In 2016 in Biggar, Saskatchewan, 22-year-old Cree teen Colten Boushie was shot from behind by farmer Gerald Stanley for the crime of standing on his land. Stanley’s wife yelled “That’s what you get for trespassing. An all-white jury acquitted Stanley sparking an international outcry. A young indigenous man says he was dismissed from the jury pool. “As soon as I saw them, I knew what I was to them”. Hubbard offers proof of generations of abuse towards First Nations, a sobering litany of acts of genocide and hatred. The Boushie family would not be silenced and met with political leaders across Canada, and eventually stated the case on the floor of the United Nations. This is an extremely powerful and important film that has taken on a life of its own.
Also on CBC Gem, the Short Docs original, Portrait of Pockets by Brina Romanek. There is a primate Sanctuary in central Ontario where Darwin, the famous IKEA monkey now lives. Around a dozen older monkeys live there, rescued from the illegal pet trade, roadside attractions and medical research. Capuchin monkey Pockets Warhol, a former pet, stunned staff when he showed keen interest, then a real talent, for painting. His social media-friendly face had made him a star and the sale of his work helped keep the Sanctuary above water.
Ricky Gervais and Jane Goodall purchased his canvases, and his work has exhibited in Toronto and Emily Carr House in BC. According to his human friends, Pockets’ success is his attitude to life “he looks at everything like it’s the first time”. A fan helped save the Sanctuary from dissolution and Pockets helps keep it afloat. If you’d like to help, here’s how.