Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an exciting, standalone Star Wars spin off – a short story in the Star Wars universe, as opposed to the forty year span of the Star Wars films. This is a first, its one and done. The story’s streamlined, the characters are engaging and the universe is nostalgically familiar despite the absence of the Star Wars opening title crawl and music. A little girl called Jyn Erso is forced to run away from home, a remote farmstead on a planet far, far away, when Imperial Stormtroopers capture her family, kill her mother and take her father (Mads Mikkelsen). He invented a gizmo to jam the Imperial Army’s weaponry but became a farmer to erase his warrior past. We next meet Jyn (Felicity Jones) as an adult, hostage of Imperial guards and enroute to a labour camp. She bonds with fellow prisoners Cassian Andor and Imperial defector Bodhi Rook (Diego Luna and Riz Ahmed) who are both skilled military men. Jyn is weary and battled scarred but revved by a plan the three make to take conquer the enemy, driven in part by dreams and images of her mother and father who may or may not exist on some plane. They muster an interesting band of allies including a blind martial artist, while the evil Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn of Bloodline) comes for them. He answers to the commander, a fully digital Christopher Lee. This is war, war and more war but I promise you, dear reader, you will be shocked, amazed and emotional.
Collateral Beauty springs from a fascinating idea, the story of a man (Will Smith) who can’t come to life after the death of his toddler five years earlier. He is mute, he’s non-functional at the studio he owns and his hair has gone deep gray. He obsessively sets up elaborate dominoes structures then knocks them down. He is under water. His concerned business partners (Edward Norton and Kate Winslet) fear he’ll kill himself so they hire a detective to follow him. The detective sees him writing letters and posting them so she grabs some. Turns out he’s writing to the universe, to Time and Death and Love. His friends hire actors (Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and amazing newcomer, 19 year old Jacob Latimore) to pose as these figures in an elaborate and finely detailed hoax. These characters accost him on the street one by one and demand to be heard to give him heart. The bystanders are actors, and “don’t see” the actors plying him, so he comes to believe they are the real deal. Then one night he wanders into a self-help group run by an empathetic Naomie Harris. There is a hell of a twist in this remarkable story. Great idea but the film falls a little short on believability and edge.
Neruda from directorPablo Larraín follows real life Chilean politician Pablo Neruda (played by Luis Gnecco) who was also one of the country’s most beloved poets. He was a Nobel Prize winner and the beloved patriotic heart of the country but he was turned upside down and routed from the free world when he joined the illegal Communist party. Gael Garcia Bernal plays an eccentric, driven police investigator on his trail in this frankly bizarre and highly stylised cat and mouse noir. We follow Neruda into Chile’s underbelly where he hides to avoid arrest supported by like-minded countrymen. His attempts to outwit the detective are bold, and like himself, larger than life. There is powerful tension throughout and there is also great fun, wit and subversive humour. It’s downright wonky. Larrain’s extravagant supporting figures are memorable; the scene of a drag queen weeping while singing Neruda’s praises is burned onto my brain. The film has a richly European vibe and it’s a true story!
One of the reasons I subscribe to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is its Christmas slate running throughout December. Home Alone, Elf, Christmas Vacation and Bad Santa have their places but for idealism and beauty looks no further back than the 30s, 40s and 50s. It’s all about the sentiment in classic Christmas films and TCM has the major feel good films. A partial list of classic Christmas movie moments includes ” Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and “Merry Christmas” in In the Good Old Summertime (1949); novice cook Barbara Stanwyck bravely flipping flapjacks on Christmas morning in Christmas in Connecticut (1945); Scrooge (Alastair Sim) learning the true meaning of the holiday in A Christmas Carol (1951); and Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger playing the couple who exchange secret Christmas presents laced with irony in “The Gift of the Magi,” an episode of O. Henry’s Full House (1952).” Be still my tinsel heart.
Downton Abbey’s Thomas – aka Robert James-Collier – stars in his first series since the late lamented DA left us and it’s a doozy. The Acorn TV Original 6 part British thriller The Level is streaming now at www.acorn.tv. A young London police detective is sent to her hometown of Brighton to help solve the murder of a local shipping boss. She knows him; he was her father figure as a child and continues to see him despite the fact that he is in reality a major drugs trafficker. She is assigned to find the witness who was with the man when he was murdered … and it’s she!! Her best friend, the victim’s daughter figures it out even as the detective is hit with anonymous threats. Her team is focusing on his widow and mistress as the potential killer when she is the only one who can set things straight. All the while she’s dealing with a septic gunshot wound she must hide sustained during the murder. Buoyed by a terrific script and performances with a spare, noir vibe The Level is a winner. Its shot in the beautiful gloomy seaside town of Brighton.
Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray, on CNN tonight Dec. 17 at 9documentsthe woeful tale of a megalomaniac motivational speaker whose hubris cost three clients their lives. James Arthur Ray’s rise to fame was fast – he created an $11M empire confronting willing stooges with promises of “finding themselves” by taking his $100k courses of browbeating, physical risk and obedience. In 2009, it all went sideways during an intense sweat lodge “freeing” ceremony in the Arizona desert. It put dozens of clients in an enclosed plastic bubble, as steaming hot stones broiled in the centre. Temperatures reached 120 F. Ray was told that people were in distress, not breathing properly and some had attempted to leave. He would not allow anyone to leave and he said he’d deal with those in distress afterwards. Three died and 19 were sent to hospital with burns, dehydration and extreme anxiety. What he talked about on hearing of the deaths was that his life was changed. He gives himself away time after time as an uncaring, controlling psychopath who calls himself a “saviour”. He was imprisoned for two years and is now out and preaching to cheering crowds. This will make your blood boil.
They said they’d do it; it’s just a matter of when. The UK’s BBC and ITV networks have partnered to create BritBox, a streaming service hitting the US in the New Year. Among its offerings will be ‘New Blood’ and ‘In the Dark,’ Historical Dramas ‘Tutankhamun’ and ‘The Moonstone,’ Season Premieres of Drama Favourites ‘Cold Feet’ and ‘Silent Witness’ , ‘East Enders,’ ‘Emmerdale’ and ‘Holby City’ as well as classics and period series like Brideshead Revisited, Pride and Prejudice, and Upstairs Downstairs, modern police and government procedurals like State of Play, Inspector Morse and Rosemary and Thyme, comedies Keeping Up Appearances and Fawlty Towers. Find it, when it gets here, on responsive web, mobile (iOS and Android), Roku, AppleTV, and Chromecast.
The Frozen Goose by Toronto artist Margaret Lindsay Holton is an oh-so-Canadian short film that’s heavy on visual appeal and the spirit of winter. It centres on a rural Ontario woman and her daughter and son awaiting the return of their father from WWI. Their lives are quiet and hopeful until one day when a wounded soldier shows up saying he’s there to take care of them; their father was killed in action. The man’s psychological wounds are all too clear and soon the family regret his presence. They’re trapped. One day children set out on a mission to help their mother, a journey fraught with unexpected peril. Catch The Frozen Goose, so to speak, Sunday at 3 pmat the Cinestarz Cinema in Burlington. After that it is available at https://thefrozengoose.vhx.tv
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