Christopher Nolan’s World War II drama Dunkirk will surely take its place as one of the great war films, bringing to vivid life the devastating and ultimately inspiring story of the Allied evacuation from France. The A-List cast of Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Harry Styles, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and a host of gifted young actors, seem of the time, just young kids sent to war as it gradually dawns on them that war is beyond brutal. Nolan’s depiction of the events of 1940 when British, French, Belgian, and Canadian Allied fighters were hopelessly trapped by German troops is a powerful anti-war statement. Nolan’s films are typically vast in scope and intelligent, and play with time, dimension and emotion and Dunkirk melds these signatures within a classic framework. Nolan says he kept the film short 1 hour 47 minutes, to maintain tension and momentum and he succeeded. He set it in three overlapping time periods in the same day, shooting on the site of the evacuation. The detail and performances, especially Rylance and the technical skill create a film that overwhelms and rewards.
David Lowery’s A Ghost Story brings a new life to the cinematic idea of haunting house films. It ponders what becomes of our spirits and emotions after death, from the point of view of the grieving dead. A young couple, Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck have begun life in a new house when he is killed in a car accident right. He rises from the hospital gurney clad in a sheet and revisits his entire life, his dreams and feelings and all that he is in one place – the home he shared with the woman he loved. He watches as she moves away, and witnesses events that took place on the site in the past, present and future. It’s a stunning reimaging of the supernatural as organic and naturalistic and strangely believable, but it is a flight of fancy, and it is sad, sad and sadder. You’ll look at things differently after this film and ponder the glorious mystery of life and death and be provoked intro new thought. A Ghost Story is playing at TIFF Bell Lightbox and the Cineplex Varsity and VIP Theatre.
The visually arresting sci-fi outing Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets finds Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in charge of keeping the universe safe (Make the Universe Great Again!). Their boss played by Clive Owen orders them to destroy the intra-universal city of Alpha because a new species has been discovered that threatens their peaceful lives. John Goodman, Ethan Hawke and Rihanna signed on for this eye popping space opera. One look and you know Luc Besson did this.
The Black Prince tells the widely unknown story of the last Punjabi Prince, Maharajah Duleep Singh who came to power at age five. He was kidnapped by British soldiers in the war with the Sikhs and sent to live with Queen Victoria where he was forcibly converted to Christianity. He was a curiosity, a trophy from Britain’s acquisition of India and the Punjab region. Years later her saw his mother who encouraged him to retake his position in Punjab, and become a traitor to the Queen. Thus began a decades-long, soul destroying journey. Indian Sufi superstar Satinder Sartaaj who plays the Black Prince has an uncanny resemblance to the Maharajah.
Ozark is an addictive, dark and dangerous drama from Netflix a nerve shredding tale of a Chicago accountant played by Jason Bateman whose firm launders money for a Mexican drug cartel. He is kept in the dark until a deadly showdown forces him to uproot and take his family away. They head to the Ozarks where he figures he can launder money himself to repay the debt. His wife (Laura Linney) is horrified when her lover is murdered by the Mexicans so she understands the danger they’re in. However life in the Ozarks proves complicated by local organized crime and the arrival of the Feds and whoops – the cartel. This is sensational stuff and Bateman’s intelligent performance is the core of it. He also executive produces and directs.
The British series Line of Duty centred on police corruption and each season featuring a new female protagonist begins its fourth season on Super Channel. When DCI Roz Huntley (Thandie Newton) captures a serial killer, the chief forensic investigator raises the alarm about a possible miscarriage of justice. What makes this series better than average is that is takes the view that police are a tainted entity, not the heroes of typical procedurals. This systemic turmoil as seen in the series puts justice and human rights in jeopardy,but it’s one hell of a fun, gripping ride. Also Thandie Newton is brill.
Barbet Schroeder’s Amnesia on VOD today stars Marta Keller as a woman in her seventies reminiscing about an affair of the heart ten years earlier with a 25 year old German composer. She lives in relative isolation overlooking the sea on Ibiza when he moves in next door. They discover they are simpatico and he quickly becomes dependent on her. His family arrive from Berlin asking him to return home but a tense standoff between Marte and his grandfather concerning his role in WWII breaks the idyll. Schroeder has lost none of his understated cinematic power magic as expressed in these characters who find their truths one way or another. There is a life, beauty, pain and hope and the beauty of Ibiza shot in the golden hour.
Daniel Grove’s The Persian Connection now on VOD is a blood- soaked, neon lit “noir” about Iraqi child soldiers now living as drug lords in Los Angeles, still fighting Russians but this time as competitors for turf and money. Reza Sixo Safai, Helena Mattsson, Parviz Sayyad and Julian Sand take this glossy but ultimately empty vehicle through the underbelly of the city, meeting assorted thugs, whores and addicts as old rivalries and hatred from the old life stand up once again to slap them. It is nicely atmospheric but this is an atmosphere in which I hope never to find myself.
Canadian reno shows are back, baby. Reno, Set, Go! executive produced by Drew and Jonathan Scott for HGTV stars design hosts and familiar faces Cheryl Torrenueva and Roger Morin. The shtick here is that friends and family are given 36 hours to redecorate and revamp a space for a deserving person instigated by one that wants to give back. There’s a couple who maxed out their savings on costly fertility treatments, a single dad whose life revolves around his daughters, loving parents to two young children with special needs and a couch surfer who wants to say thanks. Heart’s in the right place.
by Anne Brodie, BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI