PBS’ Fred Rogers was one-of-a-kind; a friend, a teacher, a motivator and listener. He was wise, deeply compassionate, and graceful. He was authentic with children and felt their spectrum of emotions; he could win a child and bring him out of isolation and in one powerful sequence appeals to a black hearted politician, changing his thinking about policies affecting children. His wisdom and magnetism shone through the television and yet he spoke softly and slowly and kindly. Morgan Neville’s mesmerizing documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is an eye opener. He reached children and adults alike using the same words in unrelenting messages of love and acceptance and to what effect! He was calm in the television storm, a safe place for children and a fun place, and he was unafraid to talk about things that were not fun. I didn’t watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood growing up and didn’t “get” him, more’s the pity. I was surprised by the emotions and appreciation he stirred in me. He was the real deal and watching him in this doc is an incredible experience. Bring tissues.
Jodie Foster goes for broke as a nurse who runs a hospital catering to criminal element in the heart of a violence torn LA. It’s the future – or is it – and business is brisk. Hotel Artemis stands on ground zero of civil and criminal warfare, including front liners like drug dealers, gangsters, and pimps. Eventually the rich, the poor, the mighty and the meek find themselves under her care, with a single helper, David Baustista as her nurse and bodyguard. Foster’s performance is noteworthy. Her ability to create a character is undiminished; she is still the boss, with ageing makeup, grey hair, a stiff, arthritic walk and a noble spirit. Her character The Nurse leads her patients, those using her hospital as a hideout, intruding gangsters out of harm’s way as much as possible but harm’s the name of the game this full moon night. A cool ensemble of actors co-star – Sterling K. Brown, Jeff Goldblum, Sofia Boutella, Zachary Quinto and Jenny Slate and look like they love this bad-assery. The hospital set design is elaborately romantic and personal, a striking contrast to the alleyways outside the heavily fortified exits. Hotel Artemis is a great antidote to big commercial films this season.
Ocean’s Eight stars Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Helena Bonham-Carter, Mindy Kahling, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson and Awkwafina. I asked Christine Bentley to review Ocean’s 8 for me and here is what she says. (I think she likes it!) “Ocean’s Eight was one of the most pleasurable ways to spend two hours that I can think of. It follows the pace and cadence of all previous Oceans movies, but “a la Girls.” Unlike previous versions with the male gang, confrontation was replaced with amicable resolution (as one is led to expect from women). The storyline had some wonderful twists and turns, especially at the end. The star studded cast turned in excellent performances, but the standouts were definitely Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham-Carter in my mind. Pure entertainment at its best.”
The Quest of Alain Ducasse is another lifestyle celebrity worship-fest doc in a season thick with them. The French chef gets the documentary treatment over two years, leading to the opening of his latest restaurant set in the gardens of the Palace at Versailles. That he secured this location is a testament to the reverence with which the French regard him. Witness Ducasse, multi-Michelin award winning chef, as he prepares a menu to reflect dishes eaten by kings 300 years ago. Ambitious! Documentary filmmaker Gilles de Maistre also shoots the celeb chef at work in far flung global locations where he serves food to the homeless, visits a school he set up in the Philippines for impoverished children, inspects a potential site for a restaurant in Mongolia “No traffic” he says blunty. He visits a US chef who seems to have an ego even bigger than Ducasse’. A total hagiography, we see people clamouring for his approval, going gaga as he trips around the world. The most fervent fan is the filmmaker who seems positively starstruck. The overall obsession with food and ingredients is pretty intense, and the level of luxury of Ducasse’ fine dining universe seems a bit twee especially in these times. Oh, well.
Ex-Nazi SS officer Oskar Gröning says he looks back at his days working at the most notorious Nazi death camp “with joy”. The documentary The Accountant of Auschwitz peels the middle class American mask off the grotesque face of murderous hatred of the 93 year old who claims Jews were conspiring against Germany. The film comments on the urgency of bringing to justice remaining Nazis before they die and how the German legal system let the world down. Gröning’s job was to catalogue the belongings of new arrivals, saying “the Jews turned them over to the state. Didn’t need them anymore”. Before his death earlier this year at age 93, Gröning was the only officer who was tried for just being at a camp. His trial attracted Holocaust deniers who defended him, but his intent was to tell the world that the Holocaust did happen. We meet survivors without family, Rudolph Hess’s grandson, an anti-Nazi activist educator, a Jewish survivor who hugs Gröning in the courtroom and international legal teams dedicated to bringing remaining Nazis to trial before it’s too late. Benjamin Ferencz, the 98-year-old last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor provides context past and present. Disturbing asides – Gröning smiles endlessly during the trial, never served a day in prison.
Shot in Sault Ste. Mare and about Sault Ste. Marie, Michelle Ouellette’s Prodigals follows a man (David Alpay) returning to his hometown as a hotshot lawyer to defend a lifelong friend from a murder rap. His arrival sparks a range of emotions in his friends, joy in his beer drinking bro pals to complicated, contradictory feelings in the woman he dumped before heading to Toronto five years earlier. He does his best to fit in and do what he came to do, but over the course of the film, we learn that he isn’t what he says he is and he has another goal altogether. It’s a compelling portrait of life in a small, close knit town and the bonds of connection and long memory. Great performances by the entire cast and an emotional journey of some heft. Check our interview with Sara Canning who plays the ex.
Indiecan Entertainment presents Jewish Films on Demand, a streaming platform to bring a variety of Jewish content to North American audiences. JVOD celebrates Jewish heritage and worldwide culture in diverse films on personal stories, religion, refugees, LGBTQ+ community, war and family. The system is pay as you go. Take a look at the current slate.
Hollywood Suite has launched an enhanced app offering films from the Criterion and Janus collections and that’s pretty special. It’s now available on Hollywood Suite GO apps. It has an easy-to-navigate interface allowing search by title, genre and decade, and an original short-form series On Film, Spotlight and Film Facts, with expert insights on film and filmmakers. The collection is updated monthly and holds to about 100 films.
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