Diane Kruger won Best Actress at Berlin for her work in Fatih Akin’s thriller In the Fade set in contemporary and über rainy Hamburg. Katya, a native German and her Kurdish-German husband are trying to live a normal life following his drugs conviction and jail term. They’re doing well and have a young son but one morning she’s off to the spa and drops her boy at her husband’s office. Later that day a bomb explodes, killing them. Katya remembers talking to a young girl rushing down the street by the office and through her evidence, the girl and her husband are arrested and revealed as neo-Nazis. The trial is bizarre, despite solid evidence against the couple, Katya’s husband’s character is attacked and the couple is acquitted. She vows revenge and sets off on a journey only to find a network of fascists dogging her movements. In the Fade points to current concerns about intolerance and growing right wing-nationalism that plague Europe and parts of the USA. It’s a heavy slog, but sadly, timely. The film won seven awards including the Best Foreign Language Golden Globe plus twelve more nominations.
Speaking of racism, Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is a brooding Western set in a universe of dangerous division between settlers, US military and the war on indigenous peoples, circa 1850. Christian Bale is a Cavalry officer with a hair-trigger temper and open hatred for Native Americans. He’s ordered to accompany a Cheyenne war chief and his family to their tribal lands in Montana and does so reluctantly. They set out and find a pioneer woman in a burned out farmhouse, driven mad by the murder of her two children, baby and husband by Comanche warriors. She joins the company as they confront enemies human and natural. The film explores a connection between movement and healing, but fresh horrors at every turn are increasingly tough to take. The dark tension rarely abates and it becomes an exercise in endurance since it trades relentlessly on the worst of what we are. Bale co-stars with Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike, Ben Foster and our own Adam Beach.
Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña and Trevante Rhodes star in 12 Strong the fact-based story of a US Army’s Special Forces Green Berets team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11 to take down the Taliban. I’ll tell you who else stars in the film, Chris Hemsworth’s wife Elsa Pataky, a well-known Spanish actress, who plays his wife! The team must do their jobs and abide by the new boss in a new era of transparency. Bigger problem is that there are twelve of them and 50,000 Taliban on their tail. Shot in New Mexico.
Gerard Butler goes against type to play a hardened LA police officer in Den of Thieves. Despite his character’s loser vibe, and his ability to alienate everyone, he’s sharply intuitive and heads an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Department. They’re targeting California’s most successful bank robbery team comprised of veteran ex-military that served in the Middle East and gained major weapons, intelligence and strategic skills. They plot to gain access to the impenetrable US Federal Reserve Bank, despite dozens of failed attempts over the years. Their idea is genius, and soon Butler’s squad catches wind and prepares for battle. There’s a major flaw in the film that distracts and annoys and that’s Butler. His oafish, loud, foul mouthed and annoying character borders on repellent. He might as well scratch himself and belch, as this grating cartoon alpha. When I think of 300 … *sigh*. Co-stars O’Shea Jackson Jr., (Ice Cube’s son), 50 Cent and Pablo Schreiber as the evil genius.
Greg Barker’s The Final Year is a bittersweet look at the Obama administration as it prepares to move out of the White House and into history. Bittersweet because we know who lives there now and how lucky we were to have eight years of relative grace under an enlightened President Obama. The doc crew began filming when Hillary Clinton was widely presumed to be the next President and ended just hours before Trump’s inauguration, so it spans one of the most divisive, brutal and dispiriting chapters in American history. Filmmakers accessed the White House, the State Department, the UN, and 21 countries, following Obama and key members of his staff. Witness Obama comforting an elderly victim at Hiroshima, John Kerry’s visit to Greenland to witness climate change damage, and meetings with the mothers of the schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria. We watch Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright as they react live to the news that Donald Trump is the 45th President. Barker captures the gloom and deflation of the exiting politicians as we consider what lies ahead.
A reminder to the legion of Netflix’ Grace & Frankie fans out there that season four is ON! It’s a fresh start, as wounds are healed, friendships confirmed and Frankie comes to her senses and decides she’s tired of Sedona and is moving back home. An uncomfortably hilarious episode has them enduring a baby sex announcement party that shreds every nerve Frankie owns. And a handsome young fella has Grace in his sights and he’s not backing down. The girls are back, baby, pop the corks!
The Alienist based on Caleb Carr’s bestselling historical murder mystery premieres Monday night at 9 on TNT. The seedy world of boy prostitutes and transvestite prostitutes in old Manhattan is revealed when one after another, they are ritually murdered. Police commissioner and future president Theodore Roosevelt hires “alienist” Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and newspaper illustrator John Moore to secretly investigate, using newfangled theories of forensic science and psychology. They’re joined by two brainy Jewish brothers and an assertive police secretary who’s trying to break the glass ceiling and become a detective. Her gifts are common sense and tenacity. Those three serial killer childhood indicators of wetting oneself, setting fires and harming animals see the first light of day here, even as our own Detective Murdoch engages in similar research and application right here in old Toronto. The Alienist stars Daniel Brühl, Dakota Fanning, Douglas Smith and Q’orianka Kilcher who also appears in Hostiles.
Showcase premières the new original series Absentia starring Toronto’s Stana Katic who also executive produces. Katic plays FBI agent Emily Byrne, missing and presumed dead, who literally resurfaces six years later. She was held and tortured in a remote cabin, and kept in an aquarium with just enough air space to breathe. The police are tipped off; she’s found and returns home. Her husband has long since remarried and they’re raising her son, added fuel to her grim psychological condition. She’s given to violent outbursts, but tries to function “normally” and climb out of the fog. The man who held her captive is found dead and she’s the prime suspect. And thus it begins. Absentia is a promising limited series and starts Sunday night.
Trust Me on Hulu stars the always amazing Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch) as Cath Hardacre, as dedicated, highly skilled nurse and single mom raising a daughter in Sheffield, UK. She’s horrified by mistakes and carelessness in her hospital and blows the whistle, which leads to her firing. Her best friend, a doctor, is leaving for New Zealand and unwittingly gives her the key to a new life. Now wearing her friend’s fancy togs and carrying her medical resume, Cath relocates to Edinburgh, passes herself off as a doctor and lands a senior position. Her “doctor” skills are extraordinary, and she outshines the real doctors. Life is good again, for a time and we identify with her, forgive her and root for her stolen success. She gives herself away a few times but no one puts clues together but then her estranged husband shows up. Heart stopping twists and threats in this well developed and believable suspense yarn are jolly good fun.
The CBC’s chilling fact based series The Detectives airs Wednesday nights at ten but it may not help you sleep better. Each of eight episodes covers police investigations into some of the most notorious murders and serial killers in Canada. It debuted with The Hitchhiker Project following Durham Regional Police detectives working tirelessly to solve the kidnapping, rape and murder of 14 year old Julie Stanton in Pickering in 1990. Her body was never found and Peter Stark who was convicted of the crime, died in prison in 2016. This beautifully made series, based on the UK original, highlights the passion and dedication of the individuals working on the cases and the tolls they took.
Great news! Acorn TV just announced that it’s commissioned a second season of that smashing Britcom Agatha Raisin. Ashley Jensen stars as the vivacious, funny and sarcastic A-type, a London ad agency executive who gives it all up to move to a tiny rural village, which, like Cabot’s Cove, has more than its share of murders per capita. Agatha has keen insights into behaviour thanks to her ad days and inborn detective skills; she puts them to use, and sometimes her own life is in peril, even as she delivers one zinger after another whilst running in stilettos across the common. The second series of Agatha Raisin launches later this year.
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