Robert Pattinson’s four years into a space mission in High Life. He cares for his baby daughter, tries to wipe earth form his mind and oversees a crew of ex-death row inmates; they’re on a face-saving mission to lasso energy from black holes out there. Auteur Claire Denis’ nightmarish tale of this cursed undertaking begins innocently enough as Pattinson’s captain bonds with his child, but new characters appear (at an alarming rate) and a plague infects the capsule. They’ve entered a spiritual black hole where violence, rape, abuse, physical and mental breakdown take hold and its straight to oblivion, not without an abundance of human bodily fluids, some stolen. The extremely slow pace feels right for this chic Twilight Zone episode about people driven to primitive baseness related to space, claustrophobia and bad company. Denis has created a unique and complete world, but as that diseased place eats up every living thing and human beings are reduced to dogs, you just want it to end. Co-stars Juliette Binoche and Andre Benjamin.
Graham Yost and Miranda de Pencier’s inspiring fact-based drama The Grizzlies is based on a short story about the power of sport to change lives. The suicide rate for young people in the Nunavut town of Kugluktuk was the highest in North America. A teacher (Ben Schnetzer) from the south is posted but he’s not trusted and he doesn’t know local ways. He does know that the children need focus so he forms a lacrosse team. Some Inuit families are against it as a threat to traditional ways and the school principal (Tantoo Cardinal) has her own misgivings, but eventually its on – and what a change. The students are lifted out of a seemingly hopeless communal rut through teamwork and the shared goal of winning a championship. Local actors Paul Nutarariaq, Emerald MacDonald and Anna Lambe Spring lead the cast, with Twilight’s Booboo Stewart and comedian Will Sasso. Six hundred local actors auditioned for the film and a third of the crew is Inuit. Each player’s personal story and breakthrough is explored with sensitivity and empathy and their hard-won triumphs are sweet. But this is no sentimental journey – its tough and real and fired by that thing we all have inside – hope.
Speaking of hope, Disneynature’s latest doc Penguins is a life-affirming warm hug of a doc about survival in face of incredible odds. It follows Steve of the Adélie penguin variety over the course of a landmark year. He’s looking for a mate and family but has problems. He trips a lot and gets lost. He nearly joins an Empire penguin herd when he lags behind his crew on their march to the sea. And he gets a sound beat down from a baby Empire encouraging him to take a hike. He does, finds his herd and marches to the coast where they’ll build rocky nests for the females and they’ll arrive soon. It takes Steve a while to find that special someone but he does and soon the eggs arrive. His comic efforts in helping raise the chicks are suddenly interrupted by killer whales, leopard seals and predatory birds. There are anxious moments, but overall, life is good for Steve and his family as he learns the ropes one stumble at a time. Highly recommended family viewing and 100% fascinating. A remarkable achievement by directors Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson, and writer David Fowler (funny). Ed Helms narrates.
Bless This Mess – ABC stars Lake Bell and Dax Shepard and PAM GRIER!! In a domestic comedy about a New York professional couple that moves to a farm in Nebraska left to them in a will. They’re picturing bucolic bliss, fresh air, organic farming, nice, simple folks and the charming farmhouse in the photograph. Instead what they get is a decrepit house, cattle – she’s afraid of them – and neighbours who’ve never heard of biscotti and enjoy schadenfreude at the city folks’ general cluelessness. Interesting subplot – sexy magnetism between farmer E Begley Jr. and local cop Pam Grier. Shades of The Money Pit, Funny Farm and Baby Boom, all great comedies, and here’s hoping Bless moves on from the setup and finds its hayseed heart.
Prime Video’s TV reboot of the 2011 Saoirse Ronan thriller Hanna’s getting a lot of buzz from those who have not seen the film. It’s a great premise but note for note the film for the early episodes. Esme Creed-Miles stars with Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos, reunited after The Killing, in this eight-parter. Quick sketch – Kinnaman steals baby Hanna from a Romanian orphanage but his wife dies in a chase while escaping government agents. His life from that point on is revenge and paranoia. He raises Hanna in the remote Polish woods teaching her extreme survival skills, hunting, languages, martial arts, weaponry, everything a young girl needs to survive on her own. Thirteen years later, Hanna lets her guard down and she’s spotted and chased. He knew the day would come so off they run in separate directions. A British family on vacation in Morocco takes Hanna in as agents menace; she’s being tailed by satellite. Then, she’s off to Berlin alone. Moments such as seeing herself in the mirror for the first time, taking duck lip selfies with her British pal and wiping out an armed SWAT team in front of her are fun. The series is more brutal than the film, more “today” but to me, a major fan of the film, it lacks its dynamic tension, there’s a certain flatness, even if the story’s worthy. Season two is a go.
I’m a little late to the game on the terrorist thriller Informer on Prime Video but colour me impressed. Raza (first-time actor Nabhaan Rizwan in the lead role) a second-generation Pakistani salon owner in London is forced to become a snitch by a half-mad Gabe a Counter-Terrorism Officer Gabe (Paddy Considine). Raza’s arrested on a trumped-up drugs beef, profiled as a potential informant and groomed for the secret role, a role he does not want. Gabe’s seeking a major terrorist Ahmed El Adoua who has apparently arrived in London to raze the city. Raza has a sense that his new life is already underway in the holding cell when another prisoner asks for his postal code. Small details like this raise the standard of this timely drama and the characters behave in ways rarely seen on US TV. Gabe’s crafty new intelligence partner (Bel Powley) goes without permission to Raza’s mother and makes up a story about him being molested in junior school, a lie which results in his mother confessing that she is undocumented. Now Raza has no choice but to be Gabe’s “rat”. And this is just the first episode.
The Olympic Channel makes its debut on Roku TV and Roku players in Canada, with a 24/7 live stream and 400 episodes from the Olympic Channel library of original content featuring 50 series.
Original programming shares space with historic Olympic Games events and related content. The channel’s signature sports documentary series Five Rings Films and original series like the Legends Live On are all available now for free, in the Sports category in the Roku Channel Store.
And finally! June 7 is the launch date for season two of Big Little Lies! With Meryl Streep added to the femtastic cast of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Zoë Kravitz. Press release sez the new series will explore “the malignancy of lies, the durability of friendships, the fragility of marriage and, of course, the vicious ferocity of sound parenting. Relationship will fray, loyalties will erode and the potential for emotional and bodily injury shall loom.” OK.
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