Patriots Day – The footage of the Boston marathon runners approaching the final lap as bombs explode beside them is seared on our collective memory and the thought of revisiting that tragic moment is difficult. But writer director Peter Berg and producer star Mark Wahlberg handle the attack and aftermath with dignity and optimism and find the love. Wahlberg plays a policeman assigned along the parade route that sunny day; he’s close enough to witness the devastating effects of that savage act of cowardice, the broken and dead bodies, shock and horror. He joins the nerve shattering manhunt for the suspects and while we know the outcome, who survived and who didn’t, Berg’s take on the material is healing. Personal moments with survivors and victims are pure light and grace set against the diabolical plan. Berg sticks to the facts gleaned from thorough research but reveals the intangibles, the power of resilience in the human spirit. To take a national tragedy and re-identify it as a cause for hope is a big deal and he’s done the job. Wahlberg’s entirely suited for the role of a law enforcement official rough around the edges with a proud, caring heart, a role he’s done before, and he’s in his own home turf. Both treat what is essentially an action adventure film with great care, so it is not diluted by its own framework. The dominant characters of Patriot’s Day is the City of Boston and its people, survivors.
Ben Affleck directs himself in the twenties gangster noir Live By Night, the story of a cunning and lethally ambitious Jersey boss moving in on Florida territory. It has the look and feel of a Scorsese-type epic, but it doesn’t have the script or narrative muscle to follow through. It is too long and monotonous, underlined by the nonstop rat-a-tat of machine gun fire that never shuts up. But the greater problem is the lack of vitality and expression. Affleck is the ambitious, rising mob star but he’s cool and inert. Unrelieved dead eye sensibility may have been intended to express the dead souls of the characters but it’s a poor cinematic choice. Therefore the film’s not interesting or productive and there’s no emotional connection. However flat the film feels, it skillfully recreates a time and place with gold-hued nostalgia, an old fashioned visual aesthetic that’s the films saving grace. One performance stands out. Elle Fanning is a young tent show preacher whose arc is easily the most interesting aspect of the film and she has an admirable grasp of the tragic character. From a childhood of abuse to religious superstardom to a cold-eyed recognition of reality, she is riveting.
The absorbing, entertaining and moving ensemble family drama 20th Century Women set in California in 1979 stars Annette Bening in a career topping performance as matriarch of a diverse family brought together by blood and love. Her ageing Earth Mother persona frames the household of colourful characters; they represent a new generation and a shedding of old ideas. The youngest householder, played by Elle Fanning shows her range as an appealingly spunky and rebellious adolescent intent on getting rid of her virginity ASAP by skipping out of the house at night and joining her friend across the way. Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup lend their likeability as the other housemates with their set of problems. By some magic, the characters seem to have lived in this house together forever, so easy is their interaction and chemistry. I wonder how they did that. Writer director Mike Mills’ (Beginners and Thumbsucker) has a knack for celebrating his characters with thoughtful, provocative and familiar strokes sweetened with large doses of warmth and nostalgia. Not to say its all sweetness and light, it isn’t, it’s mature and cosy, a fragment of time and space you’ll want to inhabit. Mills’ music choices, as ever, are tops.
Photojournalist turned filmmaker Dilip Mehta, Deepa’s brother, presents Mostly Sunny, an astounding and shocking documentary on an extraordinary go-getter. Sunny Leone was born into a traditional Sikh Punjabi home in Sarnia Ontario, made the hop to Hollywood and a massively successful career as a porn star and producer and then wangled that into a second successful career as a Bollywood actress, singer and dancer. It’s a lot to digest and seems incredible but it happened and here is part of her story. Leone, a sweetie on the surface, is a master business woman who loves more than anything to turn “a quarter into a dollar” who reveals probably more than she intended in this fascinating ad intimate doc. From skating on a pond in Sarnia with her husband to picking up dog poo outside her Sherman Oaks California mansion to being pampered and petted and bejewelled as a diva in Mumbai, her life is wildly improbable and entertaining and a tad sobering. Mehta’s gorgeous cinematography and mastery of the material makes this a must see.
No Wonder HBO’s The Young Pope premiering January 15 created a fuss in Italy where it has already played. Jude Law is Lenny Belardo, a Brooklyn priest just named Pope Pius XIII, the youngest Pope in history and he’s an enigma. His ambiguous and arrogant personality is unsettling but his anger, disdain and dislike of his subjects and the Vatican itself is certainly something to hide. He arrives at the Vatican to take office and quickly breaks the rules. Instead of appointing a Vatican insider and loyalist as his closest advisor, he appoints American Sister Mary the nun who raised him, played by Diane Keaton. He’s comfortable with her; she knows his nature and that his personality and values are unorthodox. He is petulant, a bully, decadent, a diva, a hardliner who conversely uses propriety to gain his own ends. He has a dream of addressing the faithful with his plans to allow abortion, homosexuality and same sex marriage and a litany of provocations that would set devout Catholic teeth on edge. It was only a dream. But by the time he dreams this dream, we fully expect he will make it so. Who is he? He is proof that anything can happen. Donald Trump can be elected to the presidency, and this series plays into that sense of woozy imbalance. Paolo Sorrentino directs the film with vivid colours and sensuality, to underline this young and handsome Pope’s appetites and grandeur and pits time bound traditions again his modernism. This series’ opening sequence of a baby crawling over a pile of babies at various stages of life and death and emerging fully formed as The Pope is, um, memorable.
Amazon’s new series Sneaky Pete premiered this week, produced by Bryan Cranston who also directs some episodes and stars as gangster boss. It opens with Ribisi out of prison after 20 years. He must avoid NYC and those out to kill him so he assumes the identity of his cellmate, travels to his family’s farm and insinuates himself into their world to pull a sting on them. He thinks they have money. Turns out theirs is a dangerous world crossing the lines between bail bondsmen, law enforcement and rural gangsterism. It’s another kind of danger and indeed, prison. Meanwhile the gangster who wants him dead (Cranston) kidnaps his real brother. It’s gritty, hard hearted and violent as it glorifies Ribisi’s character’s manipulative, con artist lifestyle. Can’t say I enjoyed it. Honestly, aren’t things scary enough IRL?
Cineplex Family Favourites Series features the award-winning animated Long Way North at across Canada January 14th with a portion of the proceeds going to WE.org. Inspired by the first attempted land crossing of the Antarctic continent, it’s the story of 15 year old Russian aristocrat Sasha journeys to the Antarctic when her explorer grandfather mysteriously goes missing on his latest trek. Admission is just $3! Long Way North screened at TIFF Kids 2016, won the Audience Award at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the Grand Prize and Governor of Tokyo Award at the Tokyo Animation Festival. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4dkIMhXdIE&t=27s
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