Movie & TV reviews by Anne Brodie, BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI
The Zookeeper’s Wife based on Diane Ackerman’s best-selling novel recounts the true story of Antonina and Jan Zabinski, keepers of the Warsaw Zoo who helped save hundreds of people and animals from Nazi occupiers during WWII. Chastain who also executive produced stars as Antonia who put herself and her family in grave danger by hiding Jews in the basement. The film is anything but the soft, sentimental tale about animals as the trailer suggest. It goes to the dark heart of Nazi aggression in Poland as the Third Reich’s final solution was in play, leading to the Holocaust. The central story of Antonia’s strength is set in context by powerful stories of shifting loyalties, connections, politics, lies, violence, betrayals and victim abuses. That evil extended to helpless animals as well as everyone outside Germany’s Aryan ideal. Chastain’s terrific and Daniel Brühl is an equal opponent.
Alec Baldwin is the voice of The Boss Baby a darling little newborn sent to a family to be a little brother to Tim. Tim’s not that happy with the intrusion into his life and the fact that his parents are ignoring him and the baby’s a real pain. After some confusing negative experiences with the little tyke, Tim learns BB isn’t even a baby. He’s a plant, an alien with a briefcase and a big shot attitude. Circumstances force Tim and BB to join forces to stop the malevolent folks at Puppy Co. from taking over the world one dog at a time. There are some hysterically comic exchanges and Baldwin’s Boss Baby babblings and you’ll be forgiven if you can’t help but think it’s a stinging take on Donald Trump. Alec Baldwin, folks. The film entertains all ages and there is even a reference to Baldwin’s Glengarry Glen Ross motto “cookies are for closers”.
Ghost in the Shell is based on Masamune Shirow’s manga and the subsequent Japanese movie about a woman saved from death in exchange for life as a robot. The government has picked her to become a solider in its effort to wage war on the worst of the worst global criminals. She discovers her life was stolen and seeks vengeance on her ‘re-creators”. This is mostly Scarlett Johansson in a tighter-than-skin-tight, flesh coloured jumpsuit shown from every angle including those ones. Michael Pitt and Juliette Binoche co-star.
Mr. Gaga is a nickname for Ohad Naharin the renowned choreographer and artistic director of Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company. He is an artistic genius who redefined modern dance and took no prisoners. This is a superior dance doc with its invigorating, subject matter and visceral approach to the connection between personality and dance. Naharin was born on a kibbutz and left to study with Martha Graham in New York and then at Julliard before returning home to Israel. He’s a dance visionary but he’s also an exacting and merciless choreographer. Watch him insist that dancers inflict pain on themselves in order to make a certain noises, to dance on a ceiling grid without a net and exhaust them. Still what he creates is absolutely revolutionary.
Vanessa Gould’s fascinating documentary OBIT takes a look at the only remaining obituary news department in North America, hidden deep inside the offices of The New York Times. It’s run by six veteran writers who look at their vocation as not as doom and gloom but an ongoing opportunity to learn about people in intimate ways and celebrate them, share history and tell a cohesive life story. The writing is superb and a good balance of fact, whimsy, wonder and the intangibles that make us human. It raises our curiosity about how we will be remembered and if obits will be reported in the future. One writer says” I fall in love with the people I write about. It’s not about death it’s about life and by the end sadness. Voices won’t be heard again and there’s nothing you can do about (it).” There’s is a special kind of heroism and this doc is a lovely tribute. Bonus – celebrity obits in all walks of life recall earlier times and the big stories that defined their and our times.
Netflix’s three-part documentary series Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War directed by Laurent Bouzereau based on the book by Mark Harris looks at the role some of the greatest Hollywood motion picture directors took to bring the War in Europe home in documentary films. Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo Del Toro, Paul Greengrass and Lawrence Kasdan highlight the important films of John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens who serve their country on the frontlines of battle. In many ways their films became weapons against the Axis powers and opened the world’s eyes to the horrors of the Nazi death camps and the lengths to which Hitler and Stalin went to meet their hateful agendas. They put a stop to successful careers in Hollywood to be on the ground and their work is useful even today. Harris says “It’s the hardest thing to convey to young, contemporary audiences that even if you understand it intellectually, you don’t understand viscerally that you had to wait a long time for news” in the 40’s. “The movies were the only way people could see the war.” Netflix will also present 13 docs discussed in the series, including Ford’s The Battle of Midway, Wyler’s The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, Huston’s Report from the Aleutians, Capra’s The Battle of Russia, Stevens’ Nazi Concentration Camps and Stuart Heisler’s The Negro Soldier.
Kudos to the CBC for providing not one but two terrific new must-see series Sunday nights. Anne is an edgy take on the beloved Anne of Green Gables that has an extraordinary production and cast pedigree including Breaking Bad writer Moira Walley-Beckett) and stars the astonishingly gifted young actor Amybeth McNulty.
Canada: The Story of Us takes us back millennia to the roots of what became our country, the warring factions that fought for domination, the impact of the European war on the First Nations and the fact that the beaver pelt helped shape what we are today. This is fascinating stuff, you can’t look away. It’s a ten parter.