Monday 9 December 2019
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What She Said! with Christine Bentley & Kate Wheeler

Hollywood Dishes Out Murder, Mayhem and Misery But Read on to the End. We Save You from the Midwinter Doldrums with the Help of Agatha Raisin

Writer-director Pawel Pawlowski’s black and white romantic drama Cold War just nominated for Best Foreign Language, Direction and Cinematography Oscars benefits from excellent performances from Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot but Pawlowski’s anxiety around time is its core.  It’s the early fifties in the Polish countryside when Zula and Wictor meet and feel intense connection. They come together, split apart, and reunite repeatedly over the years, jumping decades while inhabiting fleeting moments with intense power. The balance is absolute in this poem of lust and frustration, set against the backdrop of the Cold War spanning the countryside to Warsaw, then East Berlin, Paris and Yugoslavia and back to Poland. The lovers are perpetually on the move and deflecting one another but mindful of never having enough time to connect, to understand, to get away, to somehow carry on. The sadness and exhaustion of the Cold War and the memories of WWII in Poland never seem to leave them. Pawlowski’s masterful and psychologically rich film has its fun moments, but they too, are under a dark cloud. It reflects on the cruelty of European prejudices and nationalism during that period in one of the saddest films in recent memory.

Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane, Djimon Hounsou and Jason Clarke comprise the impressive cast of the alternate reality thriller Serenity for equally impressive writer/director Steven Knight (Taboo, Peaky Blinders, Locke, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Redemption, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) Plymouth Island is a laid-back fishing haven where Baker Dill (McConaughey) lives in hiding, suffering from PTSD after serving in the Middle East and mourning splitting with his wife (Hathaway) and their son. He takes tourists tuna hunting when he isn’t out obsessively chasing Justice the giant tuna that taunts and eludes him. Out of the blue one day, his ex shows up with distressing news that she and her son with Baker are abused by her rage-fueled new husband. She begs Baker to take him out to sea and toss him overboard to the sharks.  She’ll give him $10M in cash. He refuses and then gradually opens to the idea, encouraged by islanders who seem to know too much about his private affairs, and an enigmatic tackle salesman. He decides to go through with it and that’s when he breaks with reality, imagining his son is there and in danger. And then comes the dawn, in a helluva twist.  As per any McConaughey outing there’s plenty of his naked rear end and rippling muscles but even so, he shows real depth and vulnerability and more than a passing acquaintance with madness.

Bravo’s I Am the Night is a creepy trip into the dark heart of Hollywood on the fringes of an horrific unsolved crime that occurred in 1947 – the murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia. Hers was a gruesome and culturally significant case, as dominant as the OJ Simpson case and extraordinarily outlandish. It starts in Sparks, Nevada as Fauna, a high schooler (India Eisley – Olivia Hussey’s daughter) discovers she was given away at birth and that she is not biracial but white. She makes the mistake of digging into her background, heading to LA where she locates her grandfather. Relatives warn her to stay away because he’s “evil”.  Meanwhile, Jay (Chris Pine, who also produces) a onetime star reporter whose career was ruined by a salacious tell-all he did on her grandfather, is now a hack, not above posing as a doctor to get a morgue shot of a woman who’s been chopped in half. Fauna and Jay find themselves working together to further their agendas, i.e. birth family and inherent evil, and his redemption; they’re beaten, poisoned and threatened for their efforts. Patty Jenkins who directed Pine in Wonder Woman and the upcoming Wonder Woman, 1984 goes for broke with this sordid. intriguing story. You’ll hate yourself for enjoying its seedy dark universe inspired by infamy, a place where you can get yourself killed for insulting someone’s paintings. The fabulous avante garde score is, dare I say it, killer. Buckle up.

Talk about disturbing, the Netflix four-parter Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes launches January 24th and its very tough viewing.  The handsome, charismatic and charming serial killer manages to get the judge who sentenced him to death for the rape, torture, and murder of 30 women in the 70’s, commend him on how bright and smart he was and how great it was to have him in his court!!  Bundy is thought to have killed many more hinting that the number was in the triple digits. And yet he eluded capture, tearing a wicked path from Seattle to Colorado and Montana and Florida. Director Joe Berlinger brings new facts to light here including new details, expert witness interviews with people speaking out for the first time and 100 hours of Bundy’s death row audio tape interviews with reporter Stephen G. Michaud. Bundy refused to confess and felt sorry for himself but Michaud’s interviews nail him. Bundy remains one of the best-known US serial killers of that era along with Charles Manson, Son of Sam, the Hillside Strangler and John Wayne Gacy. He was different, a former law student, Republican campaign volunteer, clean cut, smart, articulate, who no one believed would tear apart young women. Berlinger examines factors that may have contributed to his life’s path and two women he actually loved.  Zac Efron will play Bundy in the upcoming film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, other phrases that same judge used to describe Bundy as he sentenced him to death.

A global screening event takes place Sunday, locally at Ted Rogers Hot Docs Theatre marking the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust under the auspices of UNESCO.  The film Who Will Write Our History? will show in Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum – Poland, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, the Museum of Tolerance in LA and hundreds of venues worldwide. Who Will Write Our History tells the incredible story of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes Archive, a secret, 30,000-page collection of eyewitness reports on Nazis crimes against Jews in the sealed Warsaw Ghetto.  Secret groups formed to record detailed histories of the genocide so Germany would be brought to justice in the future.

It shows Jewish life in Eastern Europe before “our disaster”, the multitudes who lived, worked and enjoyed life. In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland and put its policy of the extermination of Jews into practice through torture, humiliation, murder and appropriation of property and wealth. But the Jews didn’t give up – they established soup kitchens in the Ghetto, established underground news services, and secretly sent to London for help. In 1943 Jewish men and women rose up against the Nazis; the next day Germans burned the entire ghetto to the ground. Those archives were not lost and eventually told stories that would lead to Nazi convictions. This is one of the best documentaries on the Holocaust, painstakingly researched and featuring impressive archival footage, new interviews, reenactments and new information. Roberta Grossman’s adaptation of Samuel D. Kassow’s book features narration by Joan Allen and Adrian Brody.

Acorn has two worthy series on the menu, as different as chalk and cheese. Let’s start with Blood starring one of my fave British TV actors, Adrian Dunbar as an enigmatic father of three in rural Ireland. He’s just lost his wife in a freak accident and his daughter Cat (Carolina Main) suspects he did her in. Cat, the black sheep of the family, returns home after a frosty absence and notices things seem askew; she follows her father and discovers he’s in a heated affair. Her siblings know and accept it, and distance themselves from her and her “wild imaginings”.  She publicly accuses him of murdering her mother, but she’s denied, written off as a drunk. Through dogged determination, her search for clues yields fruit, she confides in friends and heads for a showdown alone with her father in an isolated field.  That’s when things hit full throttle.

On a lighter note, Acorn’s delightfully entertaining murder series Agatha Raisin is finally back for Season 2. Think Sex & and the City, Murder, She Wrote and Elaine Benes moving to the Cotswolds and you’ll be close!  Agatha (Ashley Jensen)’s back from Portugal and that failed relationship with James but the savvy former London PR maven can’t resist returning to solving crimes in her village, one brilliant stroke of inspiration at a time. Her spectacularly colorful, fashion-forward outfits contrast madly with the tweedy locals, but she manages to find extraordinary folk and friends who share her passion for snooping. Agatha says exactly what she thinks in a place where discretion is all and she drinks a tad too much.  Like Cabot Cove and Midsomer, this tiny idyllic village just teems with evil-doers and she’s out to get them. Love Jensen, love the show. Sign up here and take a peek here:

by @annebrodie

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