Anton Chekov’s The Seagull takes us down dark roads, as is typical of the Russian author. Michael Mayer’s slightly skewed version is set in the time it was written – 1896 – but spiked with modern language, indoor and outdoor locations. As much fun as it seems, a weekend party on a country estate complete with theatricals, food, drink and card games, he takes us to all seven circles of hell. Chekov’s looks at human nature with cynicism and as such, deep are the psychological wounds the characters inflict upon one another, as passions are stoked and doused, remembered, regretted and repeated and no one is happy. Brian Dennehy’s Sorin hosts the weekend with his sister Irina, a famous stage actor (Annette Bening) who is about to tear the place apart. Her lover Boris (Corey Stoll) admits he wants young Nina (Saoirse Ronan) to give him his life back, but she’s involved with Irina’s son, a suicidal writer. And Konstantin is the apple of the neighbour’s eye (Elizabeth Moss) who will not leave him alone. The characters seemed crazed by love and moonlight, irrational and driven by desire. It’s meant to be a tragicomedy, and the exaggerations in the actress, the writer and the love-struck neighbour are amusing, but these displays are soon revealed as tragic flaws. The stellar cast also includes Mare Winningham, Jon Tenney and Billy Howle. Prepare to be glued to the screen and then gutted. Not as jolly as this trailer would have you believe.
A giddy black thriller from France, by way of American exploitation road films circa 1959, that’s Revenge from Coralie Fargeat. A man and a girl barely out of her teens head to the desert for a dirty weekend at his mid-century vacation home. She’s dressed for the kill, and she can’t leave the lollipops alone. The only way to get to his place is via helicopter, there are no roads or neighbours for miles. Once there, they settle in for a bit of steamy fun, but two hunting buddies show up and stay. Jen dirty dances for them and they rape and beat her and her lover approves. She realises she’s in deep trouble and runs. They fire at her, run her down in a jeep and chase her off a cliff; she falls, impaling herself on a tree. They leave Jen for dead, but she comes to and staggers off to hide and regroup. They find her and the chase is on; she transforms from sex pot to #TimesUp warrior like that, using resources she didn’t know she had, including removing the tree limb from her torso. Look out, men! Cat-and-mouse barely describes the galvanizing effect of this fevered revenge yarn. Talk about Blood and Sand!
The evergreen story of the March family is told again on PBS Masterpiece’s Little Women, premiering Sunday night and concluding May 20. But this time there are twists to appeal to modern folk and oh, joy, the addition of Angela Lansbury as the grimly honest Aunt March. The producers of Wolf Hall and Call the Midwife have refashioned Louisa May Alcott novel, still set during the Civil War in Concord Massachusetts. Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth and Marmee March miss their father who is working in Washington but carry on with their not-so-simple lives. Jo has gender issues, she hits her sister who burned the book over which she laboured for years, Jo thinks highly of herself and Marmee aka mother, encourages the girls in their curiosity and creativity. It begins as a mood piece, realistic and unsentimental; there is tension and anxiety in the March home. Colours are muted like the gloomy weather. But over the course of the two parter, things become sunnier, sweeter and a tad saccharin, well, a lot saccharin. But Lansbury is on fire in a role she seems born to play tossing barbs and holding on to a way of life that has passed. Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s daughter Maya leads the cast as Jo. It was shot in beautiful locations in Ireland and directed by Vanessa Caswill. Co-stars Kathryn Newton, Willa Fitzgerald, Annes Elwy, Michael Gambon and Emily Watson as Marmee.
Max Heller’s Born Guilty starring Roseanna Arquette is available for digital download in time for Mother’s Day weekend. Arquette is Judith, an embittered social worker in New York with a penchant for mouthing off at random people and a deep seated need to run her son’s life and infect him with her negativity. She thinks she has all the answers after 25 years on the job, but she’s been alone that long. Wonder why? He devises a plot to have a friend pretend to romance her so he gets some much needed me time and she gets a grip. Well, maybe. I found the whole thing irritating.
Who could forget the news footage of the pizza delivery man with bombs strapped to him in an Erie, Pennsylvania parking lot in 2003? What happened to Brian Wells may have been a piece in a giant crime puzzle set in motion but the former town beauty queen and her hyper intelligent, hoarder boyfriend. Netflix presents the Duplass Brothers’ true crime, four part original documentary series, Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist. So who is Marjorie Deal Armstrong, the onetime brainy beauty queen? Did she orchestrate a cunning web of murder, torture and lies and outsmart law enforcement for fun? Wells was on a scavenger hunt following detailed handwritten notes, some kind of manifesto but it didn’t end well for him. Then a friend of Wells was found murdered. Expert investigators from 9/11, the WTC attacks and the Unabomber were brought in. Meanwhile Armstrong told a friend “my men don’t last long” and that five of her boyfriends died under unusual circumstances. Then a third body was found in a freezer belonging to a longtime friend of Armstrong’s. Three suspicious deaths in three weeks in the same town, and friend who owns the freezer, well, he’s a case study too. Getting chills yet? This taut, detailed and mesmerising doc is in the same vein as The Making of a Murderer, the same brilliant craftsmanship, an outrageous true story and the depravity of the people who just may live next door.
Bravo premiered Hard Sun from Neil Cross, a chilling pre-apocalyptic intelligence drama this week. It opens as a woman in London watches a Top Secret Live Feed from the sun, its flares and hot spots, and her faces drops. Model Agyness Deyn and Jim Sturgess are newly minted partners in a London police detachment; she’s attacked and torched meanwhile a hacker has a secret code from MI5 and all the while, the sun hangs threateningly overhead, its colour muted and dramatic as the sky darkens. A man throws himself off housing block balcony, the hacker steals something from his dead body and the woman who was watching the live feed from the sun is arrives on the scene. And what’s this about the CIA? And thus is just a taste of the first episode. There’s a lot going on and a big payoff. Tight shot: Countdown Clock. Hope it stays this good. Also on Hulu.
Just had a sneak preview of BBC America’s latest episode of The Graham Norton Show and it’s a doozy. Norton is unfailingly funny, savvy, and doesn’t stand for boredom. He manages to grab the biggest stars and coop them up together on a cramped couch and get the best lines. Benedict Cumberbatch tells how actors now use his name as a vocal exercise repeating swiftly “Benedict Cumberbatch broke a delicate luggage rack”. Maxine Peake from Silk was told she looked like a Swede, not a blonde Scandinavian but the vegetable. Taylor Swift’s ex Calvin Harris performed with Dua Lipa.” Matt LeBlanc talked the end of Top Gear and his stint living in London which he says he’ll learn to enjoy. But the best was the genteel Mary Berry of all those British Baking Shows admitting she was thrown in a US jail. One Red Chair dump.
Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibit running till May 27th at the AGO is the Toronto art event of the year. All advance tickets are sold, and they’ve had to extend hours to midnight to accommodate fans. And now the feature documentary Kusama Infinity lets us inside her world in an intimate way, the artistic creative forces that drive her and her struggles in life and work. Once considered Andy Warhol’s pop art rival, you may know her installation of thousands of tiny mirrors in a room the public moves through. Kusama encountered sexism and racism in America, and was institutionalized for mental illness in Tokyo; she’s lived in the home for the last thirty years. However, at eighty, she has finally found her expression and passion returned in international acclaim and recognition. www.kusamamovie.com
by @annebrodie, BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI