Fernando Meirelles The Two Popes is a rarity, an important true-life religious story, an intellectual and elegant psychological thriller with massive scale and palpable intimacy. It follows the world-altering events in the Roman Catholic Church in 2013 and the things that lie uncomfortably in two men’s hearts. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) contacts Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins), a German, to approve his request to retire from the church. It no longer meets his ideals for compassion and love. Pope Benedict invites him to his summer home to talk but refuses to sign off, hinting he wishes to retire himself and have Bergogllo replace him. Together over the course of intense visits in magnificent papal homes, the men defend their positions. Benedict has little experience in the world while Bergoglio has a past filled with political upheaval, personal struggle and love. They find they have something in common, soul-eating guilt. Meirelles’ mature and inventive style and the awe-inspiring visuals are delights and the script is wonderfully constructed. But the best thing is the privilege of watching Hopkins and Pryce spar and lay themselves bare while holding the fate of the biggest church in the world in their hands. Hopkins seems here always to have been Pope, so natural is his performance as a Pope who plays classical piano, but never heard of the Beatles, seems smothered by conscience and a slave to tradition. Pryce is a free and easy liberal who no longer squares his faith with his church. What binds them is a shared journey, memory and stewardship of the church itself. Spellbinding. Theatrical release in Toronto now and December 20th on Netflix.
An Ohio lawyer by name of Robert Bilott’s brave efforts to protect citizens from poisoning by the DuPont / Dow Chemical Company has tackled unimaginable odds to find success. He’s won millions of dollars in damages for clients whose lives were forever altered – or ended – by cancers caused by products manufactured by DuPont/Dow. Mark Ruffalo plays Bilott in Todd Haynes’ gripping legal drama Dark Waters as a man who took on one of the most powerful and influential corporations in America, a company whose bad acts were well beyond the pale. One day, a farmer with boxes full of videotapes and a head full of steam shows up in Bilott’s law offices telling an unbelievable story. The farmer claims his cattle are dying from water poisoned by a DuPont facility uphill and upstream from his farm. Bilott’s firm defends corporations, but he visits the farm, witnesses the appearance and behaviour of surviving cattle and realises something is seriously wrong. He forces DuPont to send him documents and after painstaking man-hours, to look for evidence of their knowledge of what they were unleashing. There’s a recurring code name for a chemical but chemists are reluctant to help because …DuPont. Dogged determination, paid for by his worsening health, and years of intense focus take their toll, but nothing like the suffering of citizens living in the town beholden to Dupont, hard by its dumping ground. You won’t be able to leave your seat for fear of missing something in this corporate/real-life thriller. Dark Waters isn’t a typical Todd Haynes film by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s a hell of a pulse pounder.
A Romeo and Juliet-ish musical about a disruptive political/social and deadly event that took place 100 years ago in Winnipeg? Yup. It’s called Stand! Thirty thousand workers, most of the city’s working people rose up against the elite and business classes to protest social inequalities, low pay, joblessness and prejudice. The Winnipeg General Strike ran six weeks and included vocal immigrants from Eastern Europe inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917. The wealthy class was intent crushing the strikers and so were soldiers returning from WWI and unable to find jobs. This is the troubled world of Stefan and Rebecca, neighbours and fellow immigrants in a lower-class neighbourhood embroiled in the strike and in love with one another. Anti-Semitism is in the air so they must meet in secret as this multilayered story told with passionate musical numbers, Stand! is written by Danny Schur and Rick Chafe, directed by Robert Adetuyi and stars Marshall Williams & Laura Wiggins, based on musical Strike! based on true events.
Agnès Varda’s Varda by Agnès comes to TIFF Bell Lightbox this week, a place Varda often visited. The late great French filmmaker who was part of the iconoclastic Nouvelle Vague of film in the fifties and sixties and made important, influential films up to her death in March at age 90. She is beloved not just for her art but for her personality which is delightfully on show in this, her autobiographical documentary. Varda reveals the secrets to making films her way as creator, writer and director. She reinvented film not because she was trying to but because her vivid imagination and sense of cinema were unique. Follow her here to China, California, Belgium where she sat on a beach and admitted she hurt everywhere; even that didn’t quell her joie de vivre. She worked with The Black Panthers in the ’60s, shot street people and amazing landscapes, scenes from life and remarkable fictions. The doc is a moving photo album of her colourful life, her spoken truths, her art installations and photographs, the things she loved, and it is a joy to watch.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, the tongue in cheek comedy Greener Grass is a twisted suburban fable set in a candy-coloured universe of nutty lives held together by pink frosting. The precision of personal presentation, immaculate clothing, haircuts and mannerisms, straight out of a Dubble Bubble nightmare sets the stage for interactions that are as deep as a page from an Archie comic book. Written and directed by lead actors Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe, its satiric knife-edge whips through common sense with absurd and zany enthusiasm. The moms have a European Tea and discuss the bagger/ murderer on the loose from the grocery star while they brag about their European adventures. “We went to Paris, then France”. A mom compliments another on her baby so she hands it over, then lives to regret it, having to make do with a dog child. Kids with Knives is TV’s popular new show and the Coliseum of achievement is the soccer field. Tonnes of fun, zero stress and zany to the max.
Amazon Prime Video offers new content as of Dec 1st including The Report starring Adam Driver, a fact-based political thriller in which Driver’s Senate staffer digs into the horrifying truths in his investigation of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program which followed 9/11. It’s frustrating and fascinating as he attempts to get to the bottom of the deadly treatment of suspected terrorists, including physical and psychological torture. What’s also horrifying is the enthusiasm of the psychiatrist the CIA hired to invent ways of breaking the prisoners down in order to spill what they knew, despite studies that show torture doesn’t work. It’s also astonishing – well maybe less so these days considering what we’ve learned –how many American politicians supported the program and took part in its coverup. Driver’s dangerous deep dive takes time, patience and above all, courage in this tough to watch but essential. John Hamm and Annette Benning co-star.
Amazon Prime Video’s Christmas fare, available Dec 1 features holiday films for all tastes
The Nativity Story:
Nutcracker in 3D:
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