More than a generation ago, Disney’s animated Aladdin was a major, pop culture landmark. Jasmine was a new kind of Disney Princess! It spawned a series of film and tv sequels.
We’re excited this time out by Disney’s live-action Aladdin for a lot of reasons, and especially because Markham Ontario’s Mena Massoud landed the titular role. And trust me, he is talented, has a magnetic onscreen personality and plenty of gusto. He sings and dances, as orphaned street kid Aladdin does, from rooftop to rooftop. Sure, he’s a thief, but he has to eat. One day he meets a handmaiden from the palace and takes her on a journey through the market and so begins an iconic pairing.
Through extraordinary circumstances, Aladdin finds himself inside a cave of treasures where he picks up a brass lamp, rubs it and – presto – Will Smith! A genie, released from a thousand years in the lamp and ready to grant three wishes. Smith’s infectious humour and sparkle are matched by his singing and dancing- in fact, he’s shockingly good! Forget rappin’ Fresh Prince, he’s Broadway-ready. A joy to behold. English actress Naomi Scott is Jasmine, a plum role she handles with verve. You know the story, just think of it bigger, better and somehow old school adorable. The film’s brilliant acid colour palette and exotic Arabic art design only add to its delicious escapism.
For those of us who grew up listening to Gordon Lightfoot, aware of him as Canadian and international, those regular spring shows at Roy Thomson and Massey Halls and his musical history of Canadiana – particularly the Great Lakes and the connecting railroads, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind is pure gold.
Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni take us through his early years as a choirboy in Orillia, then square dancing on CBC’s Country Hoedown, his part in Yorkville’s heady music days, a global career and still writing and singing at 80. The doc’s heavy with bold-faced names but its strength is the storyteller himself, describing what it’s been like being Gordon Lightfoot – artist and man. His poetry, 12 string guitar and gorgeous voice are part of it, but says “I’m grateful to be gifted to be able to create songs”.
You’ll tear up often, especially listening to the fact-based elegy The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. How wonderful to be reminded of the treasure that is Lightfoot in this excellent and nostalgic couple of hours. Lightfoot lives next door to Drake on Park Lane Circle in Toronto – two Canadian international stars who love our city and country. Just another bit of magic.
Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as old William Shakespeare in All Is True, the original title of Henry VIII, come home to find comfort following the devastating fire that levelled London’s Globe Theatre during a performance of one of his plays. He’s been away from Stratford-Upon-Avon twenty years and his wife Anne (Judi Dench) and two daughters aren’t exactly thrilled to see him. After all, when his son Hamnet died, he just kept working on The Merry Wives of Windsor and left for London. Shakespeare’s family home, rather magnificent in 1613, is abuzz with scandal. His elder daughter’s marriage is in trouble and the younger, Hamnet’s twin, is angry and confrontational, believing her father never loved her. Shades of A Lion in Winter, and as Katharine Hepburn said: “Every family has its ups and down”. Shakespeare builds a garden in Hamnet’s honour, further distancing his family as dark secrets come out in a kind of familial cleansing. Beautiful cinematography, natural landscapes and Tudor architecture help create this otherworldly, heavily atmospheric fantasy place. It’s shot in the golden hours and dominated by nature – what grows from the ground and W.S.’ fertile mind. The language is modern-ish and accessible, but warning, it’s slow, but there’s sly humour, whimsy and, well, weird magic. Branagh once said his ambition is to film all of Shakespeare’s plays. Then there’s this.
National Geographic’s three-night, six-hour thriller The Hot Zone starring Julianne Margulies begins May 27. It’s a smart and worthy offering that takes us back to the late eighties when deadly plagues struck Africa’s Ebola region. Margulies, a US Army Colonel, leads a team of virologists in a scientific facility outside Washington, D.C. where the virus is discovered; the filovirus, with a fatality rate of up to 90% landed in the US. That year AIDS was the great fear, but monkeys infected with Ebola barely pinged. Scientists in Africa seeking Ebola samples where the plague originated are told “the forest is bleeding”, and that villagers are burning themselves and their homes to contain the disease. The series is powerful and balanced and emotions run high. It’s horrifying to discover how close the people of Washington DC came to the pathogen. Co-stars Noah Emmerich, Topher Grace, James D’Arcy, Robert Sean Leonard and Grace Gummer. The teleplay is based on Richard Preston’s fact-based bestseller of the same name.
The second season of Super Channel Fuse’s sharply drawn drama series Pure begins May 28 and it’s well worth watching. The six-hour limited series is based on strange facts of the Mennonite Mob – an Alberta/Mexico drug cartel, run by Mennonites, bringing drugs and money into Canada along with violence and disruption. The season opens as ex-communicated Mennonite Anna Funk begs to be taken back into the just as the Mexicans decide she will run the Alberta organisation; she wants out. And her children are now under threat of death. The series is well-written and believable, an accomplishment given the surprising realities. The cinematography makes full use of Mexican and Canadian landscapes and becomes visual tools that help tell the story.
Renee Zellweger is loveable, sweet and funny, right? Bridget Jones rules! Well, gird your loins for Netflix’ What/If, a ten episode “neo-noir thriller” and “morality play” will wipe that sweetheart away. Picture an adorable twenty-something starting her own business and making a go of it, only to face a ruinous financial problem. Her husband’s a former athletic superstar sidelined by injury and he’s not bringing home the bacon. Out of the blue, a renowned businesswoman offers a massive investment on one condition, that she can spend a night with the woman’s husband. Zellweger’s Anne Montgomery, a pragmatist with a black hole where her heart should be manipulates the couple; it’s not about sex, it’s about dominance and psychological power, taking someone’s future. An interesting premise to a degree but the teeth can be heard gnashing five miles away, as everything is telegraphed and served with too much cheese. It’s overblown, comically and morally black and white, like fake news. And then there’s all that corny thunder and lightning.
If you’ve been wondering whatever became of Hayley Mills, we have news. She’s starring in Acorn’s new Welsh village drama series Pitching In with Larry Lamb and Caroline Sheen. Three generations of a family that owns the decrepit seaside holiday caravan park Daffodil Dunes is at a crossroads – tear it down, sell, or modernize? Mills, a canny real estate agent is doing a hard sell on the patriarch envisioning a big payoff. His daughter who has returned from London with her unwilling kids, and thinks event nights will save the place, as day to day problems arise, like the expensive new steer that’s gay and won’t do his job. It’s eccentric, mild and within the mainstay “village” canon of UK TV. A little bit of trivia courtesy IMDb: Filmed extensively on the Island of Anglesey (Ynys Mon) in North Wales which boasts the longest place town name in the UK, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06zh1qz
Canada’s leading LGTBQ film festival Inside Out running May 24 – June 10 dedicates itself to “developing, presenting, and promoting LGBTQ content that showcases and supports the broad diversity of voices and identities within our communities, and ensuring that authentic and positive representation of LGBTQ people is central in that content”. Dexter Fletcher’s highly anticipated Elton John biopic Rocketman opens the festival.
And Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson star in Nisha Ganatra’s Late Night which closes the festival.
The Centerpiece Gala, Netflix’ Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City stars Ellen Page and Laura Linney.
Also, watch for these highlights:
The Garden Left Behind
Before You Know It
We Are Radical Monarchs
For more information on the 29th annual Inside Out Film Festival, go to www.insideout.ca
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