Movie & TV reviews by Anne Brodie, BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI
What the Belle? Disney’s hotly anticipated Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s live action adaptation of the old French fairy tale is a blast! So why the sour notes on Rotten Tomatoes? Stick with me. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens star in Bill Condon’s lushly decorative, sprightly and good natured musical romance based on the fairy tale that is said to date back 4000 years. The live action film dares to exist in an old- fashioned milieu with the big colourful musicals of the ‘60’s. It has zero modern edge but it is liberal, diverse and humane. It draws on Belle’s indomitable feminist spirit, Beast’s despair and vulnerability and Disney’s first open homosexual in a family film. Emma Watson sings her heart out as she gives Belle complexity, defying the stereotypical fairy tale doll rules. Her unwanted suitor, the obnoxious Gaston remains his own worst enemy, suffering from narcissism and wandering hands. Beast, his competition, is a prince trapped by a curse in the hideous body and head, paying his debt for being entitled, uncaring and cruel back when he was human. B&B’s opened hearted romanticism is lovely; its positive attitude spiced with big characters and fun story, worked for me. *Spoiler alert* When the candle, armoire, dresser and teapot and cup come to life at the end revealing an A-list of British actors, my heart soared. There were Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Audra McDonald, Ian McKellen, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and more, just bustin’ with happiness to be free again. The film has huge expectations and nay sayers – mostly male critics – but it will bring home the bacon.
Goon: Last of the Enforcers Like its predecessor, Goon the Second is raw, raunchy, violent, disturbing and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s as Canadian as it gets as it follows the fictional Halifax Highlanders up the minor league, skating in rinks smothered with Canadian brands. Jay Baruchel directs with passion and Canadian pride, in beer, beer halls, beer drinkers, hockey players, their wives, the culture and REALLY obvious gutter humour. The Maritime accents are dead on and for American star Liev Schreiber that means channeling Gordon Pinsent! I Wyatt Hudson, Kurt and Goldie’s son is almost half Canadian because he plays hockey professionally in Canada and the US – he has a nice meaty role as a horrible captain. Elisha Cuthbert, who is married to Dion Phaneuf is a party hearty hockey babe, and Alison Pill, Baruchel’s ex, threatens the boyish lifestyle with adulthood because she is pregnant. Story wise, it’s about Glatt’s return to the team, his marital problems and his on-ice misadventures. What a bunch. If you are blood averse, give it a miss because there are plenty of hockey fights involving rivers of the stuff. It dares you to laugh and by gum, I did, eh?
The Sense of an Ending stars Jim Broadbent is an unhappy man divorced from his wife and barely communicating with his pregnant daughter. He receives a legacy when his Cambridge girlfriend’s mother dies – a diary belonging to his schoolmate who married his girlfriend then committed suicide. See? It’s a tangled web of love and betrayal, an emotional thriller spanning forty years with a top notch cast – Charlotte Rampling, Michelle Dockery, Emily Mortimer and Harriet Walter are at the top of their game in this game of emotional cat and mouse. He is obsessed with the legacy and its meaning and uses it to attempt to rekindle that long-ago romance. No dice. His distant daughter is a single lesbian about to give birth and he reluctantly becomes her delivery parter, a big step for him as he’s utterly repressed and undemonstrative. And he’s also a full time stalker. It’s tough watching the characters’ endure so much pain but its hold-your-breath riveting viewing and based in part on the real life experiences of best friends and English authors Julian Barnes and Martin Amis and the woman they both loved. The moral is that loved ones can certainly betray us, but through loss and failure we can find redemption. Directed with meticulous, poetic attention by Ritesh Batra.
The Stratford Festival’s 2016 production of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth starring Ian Lake and Krystin Pellerin was filmed live and premières Saturday at Cineplex theatres across Canada. Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino’s adaptation of the story of an 11th century aristocrat communing with witches and plotting to gain the throne holds fast to the original primal horror of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Macbeth and his wife believe they will secure the crown by murdering Duncan but they’re forced to kill again and again to hide their deed and solidify their hold over Scotland. The court starts to rise against him and the witches’ prophesy comes true, Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane, sealing his fate. Cimolino’s interpretation is dark, sensual and nerve shredding. It was one of the most popular productions in Stratford’s Festival’s 64-year history. The Barenaked Ladies’ Steven Page provided music and kudos to Michael Blake, who, as MacDuff reacts to news of the murder of his family, and becomes the heart of the production.
Netflix brings Dave Chappelle back to the masses March 21with a pair of stand-up specials and that’s a huge coup. Remember he disappeared at the height of his career and fled to Africa, walking away from a $50M contract? He is suddenly everywhere, at the Canadian Screen Awards, doing surprise stand up shows and now he’s on Netflix with all new material and I am stoked. He’s a gifted entertainer and observer with integrity and a sensitive heart. Chappelle says that he walked away from his old show because it offended him and it was becoming too popular. I want to hear more from a man like that. Note: Chappelle lives in tiny Yellow Springs, Ohio because he likes small town life.
Striking Out starts with a big bang! Acorn’s latest mystery drama series set in contemporary law circles in Dublin opens with loss, humiliation and anger. A rising star played by the excellent Amy Huberman discovers her fiancé is cheating on her in the worst possible way. She cancels the wedding set for the next morning, breaks down at work, loses her job and starts stewing. But it’s only momentary because like that she’s back on the horse. She “strikes out” on her own, setting up a barebones office in a warehouse behind a hipster coffee shop. Then she finds loyal support from an odd assortment of assistants, including a criminally inclined gay, homeless guy with an unnatural amount of common sense and wit. Her former boss stops by and winds up partnering in secret. And to meet the contemporary needs of a lawyer / warrior, hires a hacker with insane tech and surveillance skills. The cases are complex and heart breaking, inheritance, divorce, day to day cases that reveal bizarre twists and the unpredictability of human nature. The writing is meaty, filled with interesting shades and twists with interesting complexities in the characters. The performances are modern, natural and lifelike and make you want to hang out. Striking Out is binge-worthy! It’s the number one series in Ireland and it’s available now on www.Acorn.tv