Nature imitates art for Liam Neeson and Mads Mikkelsen it two bone-chilling high north thrillers. They’re on missions from which they refuse to waiver, one revenge the other survival. Arctic opens a moment after Polar pilot Mikkelsen’s plane crashes in a wind-whipped frozen mountainous wasteland. Common sense and barebones supplies keep him going until a small plane coming to his rescue crashes. He takes the surviving pilot, an immobilised and unconscious woman, leaves the body of her male copilot and begins a horrific trip to a distant polar station. Just one person pulling another on a makeshift sled, a few words, and a frozen living hell. Director Joe Penna’s attention to minute detail, his unerring gift for the dramatic build and Mikkelsen’s quiet, stoic heroism make for a screen experience so specific and intimate that you simply can’t look away. I get shivers just thinking about it, partly due to onomatopoeia but mostly tension. Not to be confused with Mikkelsen’s upcoming comic book thriller Polar.
Liam Neeson’s – living a real-life crisis these days – is in frozen backcountry in Cold Pursuit, a respected citizen and snowplow operator opening roads, dangerous but important work, requiring nerves of steel and solid common sense. His son dies of an apparent heroin overdose, raising his suspicions immediately; his son didn’t use drugs. He believes he was murdered by a local drug gang and injected with heroin. Vengeance will be his. He learns the habits of the gang, and picks off members, one at a time, in ever more creative ways, until a harrowing final shoot-out. He faces the gang boss, Canada’s own Tom Jackson, an equal in cunning and will so that’s fun. This suspenseful wild west tale is leavened by Fargo-esque humour and incredible set pieces and based on the extraordinary but far superior Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, both directed by Hans Petter Moland.
Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling’s a loving mother in The Prodigy. Its soon clear that the infant is unusually intelligent but he’s subject to violent acting out in extreme and violent mood swings. He has a dark side as in Exorcist evil dark side. This is the first time I recall that a case of one blue eye, one hazel a la David Bowie as a signifier of evil but that’s the thematic image. He’s taken to a child psychiatrist (the formidable Colm Feore) specialising in … reincarnation! Yup! The outlandish premise is the basis for an earth-shattering reality that envelopes the family, and way beyond. An intriguing hole at the end signals that a sequel that has probably already been written.
52 Words for Love is a Toronto-centric look at love for Valentine’s Day, sprung from a single woman suffering from cancer who launches a website on which she’ll post a new synonym for love every week for a year. And to prove or disprove the words’ viability, filmmakers Andrea Moodie & James Blokland offer brief, interconnected slices of life as illustration. A multitude of characters examine, poke, prod and crave answers about love that can’t be answered, so it’s about the journey as in real life. Actors and non-actors of all ages, persuasions, genders and backgrounds participate in this cinematic Jackson Pollock abstract, desperate for understanding that never really comes or isn’t recognised. It moves at its own deliberate pace and by that, I mean it’s slow. Stacey Iseman, Taeo Soleil Levine, Philip Lortie and a host of others star. If these phrases mean anything to you – “Did anyone ever die of love?” “When I look back why did I care?” – tune in On Demand on Valentine’s Day.
Best Documentary Feature Oscar Nominee Hale County, This Morning, This Evening from RaMell Ross is an all-new animal, a radical cinematic and spiritual departure, following a few episodes in the life of the Alabama region known as the “Black Belt”. There is no narrative, and there’s no person or moment he overlooks, from the birth of twins, a deer caught in a lane of traffic, drooling in terror (it got away) an ignored toddler repeatedly running a self-made living room track, a dramatic electrical storm hovering over citizens the night of the Big Game, athletes bonding in the locker room, one quietly sharing his dream that sports will get him out of there, a rubber tire fire, scudding clouds across the sky, a gut-wrenching gospel service for the death of the male twin, endless moments capturing the spirit of the community and the overall sense that nothing will change. Its only “acted” sequence, in black and white of a black man in blackface, by a plantation mansion revealing the reason for the area’s generational poverty.
The Coroner on CBC has is the most-watched new drama in Canada this season.Dr. Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan) is an inspiring female protagonist, a corner who overcomes sexism on the job as she investigates homicides and sudden suspicious deaths set in recognisable Toronto locations. Jenny’s a self-reliant heroine with politically intriguing cropped hair who gets tough when she must, dispatches patronizing colleagues and wows reluctant veteran colleagues. She’s widowed and lives with anxiety in a picturesque old Victorian with her gay son who is prone to depression following his father’s death so Jenny’s plate is too heavy. She sometimes cries in rage and despair but always gets up to face another day. Roger Cross plays her partner, a traditionalist who pushes her when she needs it. Her work wife played by Tamara Podemski is a kind of empathy savant who clues into any given vibe to save the day.
Joanna Lumley hosts this year’s British Academy Film Awards aka the BAFTAs again and we can join in 6 p.m. Sunday night on Hollywood Suite. The London gala draws the leading stars from around the world in a race that somewhat mirrors North America’s with a healthy dash of UK competition.
And the numbers are intriguing. Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite won an astonishing twelve BAFTA nominations while Roma, First Man, A Star is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody all won seven. Isn’t that odd?
TCM the home for classic film on TV presents 31 Days of Oscar now until March3, a glorious and thorough showcase of Academy Award-winning films, directors, actors and craftspersons – stars Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, Rex Harrison, Barbra Streisand and a who’s who of magnetic personalities in their finest hours, and the talented people who supported them in some of the greatest films of all time.
Be sure to check the TCM Canadian Schedule as it sometimes varies from the US sked/cable listings.
Two major digital releases from Disney that will have grownups feeling nostalgic and all audiences uplifted. It’s been thirty years since The Little Mermaid dove into our hearts and it’s being released for the first time ever as part of the Walt Disney Signature Collection. Look for the double Oscar-winning fish-positive romantic comedy On Digital and 4K Ultra HDä Feb. 12 4K Ultra HD and Blu-rayTM Feb. 26. It’s got it all, as mermaid princess Ariel looks for her human prince, a great score, songs, an effervescent sense of joy and plenty of funny lines – I’ll bet you’re singing Under the Sea to yourself right now.
Also from Disney, the fabulously funny, satirical and adorable salute the friendship Ralph Breaks the Internet in which Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) the video game character and games wiz Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) take a trip into the internet. They see it in all its wonky overwhelming overstimulating hugeness but they’re in a rush to save the game Sugar Rush and the video arcade back home. Can they find the missing part and go home again? On HDTM/HD/SD Feb. 12 and physically on Blu-rayTM and DVD Feb. 26. Here’s John C. Reilly on being Ralph.
TIFF Cinematheque puts the spotlight on one of the most gifted sopranos of our time, in its series In Conversation With… Jessye Norman. Alexander Neef, General Director of the Canadian Opera Company hosts a presentation of Jessye Norman Sings Carmen a powerful behind-the-scenes look Norman’s recording of George Bizet’s opera with conductor Seiji Ozawa and the Orchestre National de France summer of 1988. That’s Tuesday at TIFF Bell Lightbox. See and hear and revel in that voice on the big screen.
This hour-long doc is followed by Oedipus Rex, Julie Taymor’s Kabuki-inspired adaptation of Stravinsky’s oratorio, in PBS’s Great Performances of 1993 featuring Norman as Jocasta, Philip Langridge in the title role, and the Saito Kinen Orchestra as conducted by Ozawa. It’s at 8:30 pm with an introduction by Norman herself.
Diva Jean-Jacques Beineix’s pulp thriller follows an opera-loving Parisian postal worker on his route when someone drops a priceless cassette in his bag, a recording of an opera diva who refuses to make recordings. Everyone wants it – and they’ll do anything to get it. A bracing way to experience opera! On Feb 13. Revel in that big voice on the big screen. www.tiff.net/jessyenorman
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