Montreal’s Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project’s a classic business thriller set in a world that’s unfamiliar to most of us, high stakes trading. It tells a gripping, fast-moving story that reveals the dark underside of institutions we depend upon. Jesse Eisenberg plays a frenetic Wall Street trader with a gift for persuasion who arrives at a scheme to make mega millions, damn the moral consequences. He and his cousin (Alexander Skarsgård), also a trader and a numbers savant will bury a fibre optic line in a straight row from Kansas to New York, under people’s homes, through the Appalachians’ rock and water from Kansas to New Jersey to gain crucial milliseconds seconds in the High Frequency Trading wars. That would give them a money-making advantage to manipulate the market before their competitors wake up. Salma Hayek, their former boss appears as an avenging angel/devil to destroy them, but she’s not the only obstacle, there’s the Amish aversion to technology, phases of the moon, and their own inner voices. Someone didn’t prepare properly. Nguyen’s crafted a smart morality tale that’s also great good fun aided by Eisenberg’s nutty mania.
John Lee Hancock’s The Highwaymen in theaters now before its Netflix launch unites Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as former Texas Rangers Frank Hammer and Maney Gault, slightly over the hill detectives brought back to capture two of the deadly and elusive criminals. Bonnie and Clyde the notorious, violent bank robbers, lovers and folk heroes who left a trail of blood across the US south from 1931 and 1936 were free for all those years because they were widely protected by members of the public. People left poverty-stricken by the Depression and Dust Bowl looked on them as superstar disrupters, despite at least one hundred bloody crimes. The FBI’s network and modern forensic technology weren’t helping and the bodies, mostly lawmen, piled up. Hammer and Gault noticed a pattern in their movements and laid their plans. Hancock’s cat and mouse drama recalls a starstruck era when a guy and his girl robbed banks, killed people, slept together and became legends at what cost to human life, while Hammer and Gault were mere footnotes.
Jia Zhang-Ke’s mesmerising Ash is Purest White follows Qiao (Zhao Tao) over seventeen years, from a gang boss’ moll to prisoner to betrayed lover to desperado, revealing a changing China as she goes. Qiao fires a gun when her powerful mobster boyfriend Bin (Fan Liao) is attacked by rival thugs and serves a five-year prison sentence. She’s released, but Bin isn’t there at the gate. Her search leads her to his new girlfriend. Qiao fakes a rape complaint to win Bin’s attention – he shows up, homeless, penniless, a different person. He tells her success can turn to failure overnight. Rapidly changing hairstyles and lengths signal the passing of the years as personal fortunes inexorably shift and its never clear who she must be next. She is a survivor, “ash from a volcano”. This commanding, sure-footed and epic portrait burns brightly and long after its over.
Deanne Foley’s acclaimed drama An Audience of Chairs based on the award-winning book by Joan Clark is a tough slog and a revelation about the struggles of living with bipolar disorder. A young single mother (Carolina Bartczak) raises two daughters while working towards a potentially life-changing gig as a classical pianist. She’s also coping with an anxiety-provoked extreme onset of symptoms that clouds her judgment and ability to care for the girls. Her husband allows them to stay in her seaside cottage but while rehearsing she forgets the girls; one falls down a cliff. They’re taken away from her, potentially permanently and she still she refuses to take her medication. It’s a difficult film that immerses us in her pain and frustration and contrasts with the exquisite backdrop of craggy, seaside Newfoundland.
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Selma Blair and Reese Witherspoon’s wickedly dramatic Cruel Intentions returns to theatres for one week only on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. One wag called it “The dirtiest-minded American movie in recent memory.” A pair of elite Manhattan step siblings have laid a wager, if he cant’s “get with” the new headmaster’s daughter before school starts, he must give his steppie his beloved car, if she loses, she must sleep with him. They are bad to the bone as they lay a trap for another student and deflower her as revenge for having taken the stepsister’s boyfriend. And here you thought reality TV was raunchy.
The Murders, a new police procedural series on CITY offers an interesting take on generational policing. Jessica Lucas is Kate whose late father was a homicide detective and she’s just landed a job in the same role – in his old office. It comes with baggage as fellow officers don’t trust her, but she’s smart and cautious, and a bit of a lone wolf. One night she and her partner (Lochlyn Munro) are hunting a serial killer when she leaves her gun in the cruiser and its stolen. Big mistake. Her partner tells her to cover up her mistake then he accuses a man of murder who later is found hanged. The coroner who worked with her father warns her that some cops are bad. On top of which her ambitious mother who is running for Mayor is a loose cannon. No surprise she’s soon seeing the police psychotherapist. The show has promise, its set and shot in Vancouver.
Super Channel Fuse launches a six-part British comedy series on Wednesday, you won’t want to miss. Damned is heartwarming and blackly comic, around two social workers who battle the system every day. Jo Brand (the filthiest mouth of Absolutely Fabulous) is Rose and she’s worked at Elm Health Children’s Services since God was born. Her colleague Al (Alan Davies) really cares, he just doesn’t look like he does. What’s so cool about the series besides these two and the writing is the hand-held camera that neatly weaves in between and around a warren of squeezed together desks, phones constantly ringing, as staff try to save lives or organise birthday parties. It has genuine heart and they do find joy sometimes. It’s bitter, ironic, rude, tongue in cheek, uncomfortable and tonnes of fun.
Convicted serial killer Bruce McArthur is now serving sentence for the murder of eight men in Toronto’s gay village following investigations dating back to 2012. His victims – Abdulbasir Faizi, Skandaraj Navararatnam, Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi, Dean Lisowick, Selim Esen, Andrew Kinsman, Kirushna Kanagaratnam – are remembered in Michael del Monte’s documentary Village of the Missing. There were similarities between them, many were from South Asia or the Middle East, Afghanistan, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Iran, all were middle-aged, some struggled with substance abuse and were drawn to the gay village as a refuge for lifestyles frowned upon by their cultural communities. The doc looks into their struggles with immigration issues, isolation, homelessness and other vulnerabilities. The doc airs Friday night on CBC POV and across CBC’s Gem streaming service.
Hey, who’s looking forward to Disney+? Set to launch later this year, the game-changing streaming service will offer some of the biggest family-friendly fare of all time, exclusively, including Disney proper, Marvel, Lucasfilm’ Star Wars, plus Pixar and National Geographic.
It’s reported to be developing a live-action Marvel series focused on Loki, with Tom Hiddleston returning in the role, a live-action, big-budget Star Wars TV series called The Mandalorian, a Star Wars Rogue One prequel TV series, starring Diego Luna, a possible Scarlet Witch Marvel series based on Elizabeth Olsen’s character. And that’s just the start. And not to worry, it will also provide a home for more adult-oriented fare on Hulu which Disney bought when it acquired Fox this week.
Hulu has a poignant new comedy-drama about a big girl who is tired of the drama. Shrill stars Aidy Bryant as Annie who’s often at the receiving end of passive aggression like the trainer who tells her she could be so pretty if she lost weight. She tells her sympathetic roommate why she is a pushover. “if I was sweet enough, easy going enough for any guy, he’d like me”. Her boyfriend makes her leave the house by the back door so his friends don’t see her. Her boss doesn’t see her as a serious writer, she gets pregnant and no one told her the morning after pill doesn’t work on women over 175 pounds. Amidst the drama, Annie makes a momentous decision – she will not lose weight to please others. Bryant is a terrific rising comedienne and has a uniquely light touch – you may know her as Sarah Huckabee Sanders on SNL.
Also premièring on Hulu is The Act, a seasonal anthology series that tells startling, stranger-than-fiction true crime stories. The premiere series shines a light on the dark, twisted world of mother and daughter Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette like you’ve never seen her) and Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King) who you know from the news. Let me remind you. Missouri single mother Dee Dee raised her daughter to be eternally ill, in an example of Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy, a mental health condition in which the caregiver makes or keeps a vulnerable person ill – sometimes for attention, or to keep them under their control. Gypsy was a healthy teenager repressed by her mother’s attentions who has a secret computer sex relationship with a boy who claims to have multiple personality disorder, see? They plot to kill Dee Dee to free Gypsy but neighbour Chloe Sevigny smells something rotten. The story is lurid enough on its own but this exploitative version is way out there. Nick Antosca and Michelle Dean co-created the series based on Dean’s original Buzzfeed article.
Chuck’s niece Amy was really pregnant when she recorded her new Netflix comedy special, Amy Schumer Growing. And she’s even more so today. By the time you read this, her bundle of joy may have landed. Filmed in front of a packed house in Chicago, no topic is off limits – sex, her body, marriage and her husband, social norms, the #MeToo movement and empowerment. She opens with an hysterical bit on sex from behind, remarks that it’s not fun to be pregnant at the exact same time as Meghan Markle and flashes her naked bump by lifting her skirt. She goes everywhere – abortion, menstruation, her husband’s autism, and how scary it is to be a woman. There’s something comforting about it.
Corus Entertainment is launching the world’s first ever 24-hour Adult Swim channel in Canada on April 1, from original animated comedies and live-action programming, promising “an unexpected blend of authenticity, originality, and cleverness”. It’ll specialise in comedy, animation, gaming, music and live events. Take a peek.
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI