There is great reverence for the late Fred Rogers, host of PBS Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and a poignant film now explores his effect on people. The late Presbyterian minister turned children’s friend and advocate had a way with people so new and graceful and revolutionary that he stunned TV audiences. He offered his studio front room as a welcoming home to puppet and human characters while entertaining and soothing hearts of all ages. In a simple speech, he convinced, with love, the US government to continue funding children’s television. He brightened the outlooks, and often the lives of those he met in person and who saw him on TV, and nowadays on YouTube. A reluctant reporter from Esquire magazine is assigned to profile him for a series on heroes. They meet and he understands. A long way of introducing A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, the true story of the friendship between Fred Rogers and Tom Junod and what led to the subsequent article Can You Say…Hero?
Tom Hanks is perfection as Rogers, a man he’d wanted to play for decades and completely inhabits. Matthew Rhys plays Junod who underwent personal and healing transformation knowing Rogers. Director Marielle Heller balances Rhys’ story and Roger’s powerful presence; the films not it’s not necessarily for children, but it’s an affirmation of who we are and can be and a reminder that civility and caring belong in our society, even on TV. And news this week, Ancestry genetic researchers announced this week, Hanks and Rogers are sixth cousins!
Girls around the world are eager for Frozen II the sequel to the monster hit of 2013, the continuing adventures of royal sisters Anna and Elsa. Stakes are high as climate change (not named, but you know…) has put their kingdom home of Arendelle in imminent danger of disappearing under floodwaters. Their mission, with the help of Olaf, Sven and Kristoff is to break through an impenetrable mist into the land of perpetual autumn – the colour palette is beyond stunning – to find the source of Elsa’s icy powers, harness and use them to save their home. Anna and Sven are getting closer, while Elsa deals with the existential crisis that awaits Arendelle and her own mortality. Once again, stand out songs, seven new ones, and musical numbers enliven the journey. Co-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee provide eye-popping sequences, plenty of emotion, strange twists and pageantry. Producer Peter Del Vecho wanted the real deal so they shot in Norway and Iceland, taking ancestral and natural cues for the story and look. Voice stars include Kristen Bell, Evan Rachel Wood, Idina Menzel, Sterling K. Brown and Ciarán Hinds.
Trey Edward Shults’ bold two hour and fifteen-minute-long family epic Waves uses experimental cinematography, sound and construction to tell the story of a wealthy African American family – teenagers Tyler, Emily and their parents. Father Sterling K. Brown grew up in poverty and is determined that his children will be the best at everything – scholarship, athletics and music to protect themselves in a world of white privilege. His rigour and focus on his son, brilliantly played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. seems abusive and unloving. Tyler severely injures his shoulder wrestling and is afraid to tell anyone, so he works through the pain for fear of his father. His sister Emily (Taylor Russell) is treated like a princess. Tyler acts out, leading to dire consequences and his girlfriend is pregnant. Emily meets and falls in love with a white boy (Lucas Hedges). These are part of life’s gauntlet, but they’re played at such an intense pitch that is viscerally painful to watch. The young performers are sensational, but it’s tough thinking of Brown as a villain, as his characters are often upstanding. A difficult subject, difficult times of life in a fiction feeling like cinema verité.
Noah Baumbach’s devastating film Marriage Story, based partly on his own divorce experiences and others is a tough watch, especially for those with experience in that painful endeavour – splitting up. Shot and told simply, its intimacy is in yer face, powerful and unrelenting. The intimacy of couples breaking up contrasts with that other natural occurrence, confrontation, hateful intent and hopelessness. And this is a film that takes no prisoners. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, a couple living in New York with their son decides to split and are about to be torn apart, literally, symbolically and geographically. We follow them beat by beat, as anger and resentment overwhelm them. The lawyers are called in, played by Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta, adding more layers to their trauma. Then there are the families to sort and bi-coastal living arrangements. Superior, awards-worthy performances by Johansson and Driver. Theatrical Release in Toronto November 22 and on Netflix Dec. 6.
By now, you may have watched Disney+ Lady and the Tramp live-action / CGI update of the 1955 animated classic film about two dogs in love. Set at the turn of the last century and shot in the beautiful fin de siècle neighbourhoods of Savannah Georgia it has all the points for nostalgia, but its inclusiveness and tone are in line with life today. The story’s unchanged, just a tad darker given its 2019. The all-star voice cast features singer-actress Kiersey Clemons as Darling and Thomas Mann as Jim Dear and as the starry-eyed canine lovers, Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux. Tramp is a tramp, a street dog, facing capture by the ambitious dog catcher but smart enough to evade him, mostly. Lady finds herself outside the safety of the family backyard and in the mean streets of the real world with Tramp as her guide. The spaghetti scene’s adorbs. Yvette Nicole Brown is prickly as Aunt Sarah who comes to dog sit and messes things up, but without her, there is no dog love story. The tone is sharper, disconcertingly harsher but perhaps recognizable to kids who are growing up in a sometimes-unforgiving digital age.
Sundance Now, available in Canada, launches a four-part English thriller that’ll make you gasp. Cheat, starring Katherine Kelly and Molly Windsor as a Cambridge University professor and her student, takes us on a gripping journey to the far reaches of psychological manipulation. The married professor is at the top of her game professionally and expects a promotion. Personally, it’s a different story as she carries on an affair with another prof in the uni washrooms, and she’s seen. Student Rose hands in a paper that seems beyond her academic ability, prof suspects cheating and fails her. Rose is in a blind fury but takes a different tack, practicing a sob story in the mirror and asking timidly for a proper grading. She delivers a tale of woe but no go, and she drops a threat. The prof’s dog is found killed, and Rose sleeps with the prof’s husband, and that’s just the first episode! Things quickly spiral up to dangerous levels as these women fight for their sanity and their lives and we know that at least one of them is a psychopath.
Fleabag fever! Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s one-woman show that birthed the critically acclaimed TV series is back and is being telecast live from London’s National Theatre to participating Cineplex Theaters November 23 and 24. British singleton Fleabag’s London adventures in love, family, work and daily life grabbed the hearts of fans making it one of the most lauded comedy series in recent years. Perfectly described as “witty and filthy” the series has won six Emmys and 22 other awards and no wonder. It goes further than any other show, its elegance and subtlety and wicked humour are unparalleled.
TIFF Cinematheque’s timely retrospective on the films of Martin Scorsese on the heels of the release of his masterpiece The Irishman is underway. This is your chance to see his best films on the big screen with great sound. So much variety, talk about the many moods of Martin!
Here is the lineup:
Nov 22 – Who’s That Knocking at My Door?
Nov 23 – Boxcar Bertha
Nov 24 – Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Nov 28 – Mean Streets
Nov 30 – Goodfellas
Dec 1 – Casino
Dec 3 – New York, New York
Dec 6 – One-week engagement begins Taxi Driver
Dec 8 – The Color of Money
Dec 10 – After Hours
Dec 12 – The Age of Innocence
Dec 13 – The Last Temptation of Christ
Dec 14 – The King of Comedy
Dec 15 – Cape Fear
Dec 17 – Bringing Out the Dead
Dec 23 – The Last Waltz
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