Attention Anglophiles: the film event of the YEAR has landed! Downton Abbey reunites our dear upper-crust friends to return to the Abbey to see what has transpired. It’s now 1927, some are marching to a modern beat while others look in the rear-view mirror to traditional ways as society changes. The King and Queen announce that they are coming to visit the Granthams sending shockwaves upstairs and down. The place must be bandbox ready but interference in the form of servant wars and weighty family matters complicate life at the Abbey. Overzealous footman check, wine lists wars, check, and snooty Royal household staff appear to take over the entire operation. Interesting tidbit Geraldine James who plays Marilla on Anne with an E appears as Queen Mary!
Julian Fellowes does this up right – we find Lady Edith, her daughter Marigold reunited, and husband home again while Lady Mary tries to contain her nerves over the Royal invasion. Didn’t know she had any! Thomas decides to be a nice person, Mr. Carson saves the day, and Matthew’s life is changing – a good thing. So much to absorb! This highly polished follow-up is a joy, the look, sound, musical themes and the characters are heightened for the fans. Perhaps I can’t be objective as the entire experience is a beautiful, nostalgic love letter to the well-mannered franchise. Its refinement stands out today as we are doused in daily chaos and uncertainty IRL. It nods to changing times and ways of thinking, but its all our friends. It’s not deep or profound but who cares? With Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Joanne Froggatt, Matthew Goode, Harry Hadden-Paton, David Haig, Geraldine James, Robert James-Collier, Simon Jones, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Penelope Wilton, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lesley Nicol, Kate Phillips, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton and newbie Tuppence Middleton.
If it’s profound you want, look no further than into space in James Gray’s elegant and philosophical thriller Ad Astra starring Brad Pitt. He’s astronaut Roy McBride, son of space exploration pioneer Clifford McBride who was lost near Neptune years before. Earth has been attacked by a power surge emanating from Neptune; McBride is asked to help find the cause and stop it, using his relationship with his long absent father. He makes a trip to a sandwich- franchised Moon and on to Mars to send a message to his father whom his superiors feel is still alive, to stop the surge. Pitt’s McBride is a patriotic well-disciplined man, dedicated to his mission and single-minded as he seeks grace. Gray’s script is powerful and poetic and asks questions we have all asked ourselves about our moral place in the universe. Subtle jabs at big business on the Moon are frighteningly on point. Ad Astra is moving, intense and meaningful and a solid mystery thriller. Brad Pitt who is in virtually every frame is phenomenal; his performance as this measured man in chaos is sublime.
I loved The Band more than any other group in my lifetime. Their timeless music was the soundtrack to many lives, with its heartfelt social, personal and political songs that sounded like they were being performed two hundred years ago for us, drenched in nostalgia, pain and love and longing. Oddly the music was called “Americana” but the band was primarily Canadian, led by Robbie Robertson from the Six Nations Reserve, with southerner Levon Helm in for colour drums and – that voice! The Band melded Mississippi Delta sounds with old English and Scottish ballads, and with Garth Hudson’s ecclesiastical organ giving it a profile of cathedrals and prayer and times gone by.
Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band which opened TIFF opens in theatres this week, before heading to Crave and I say get thee to a theatre for the big screen experience. Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard’s film directed by Daniel Roher follows the band’s formation after their time with the legendary Ronnie Hawkins learning southern rock, to their incarnations as Levon and the Hawks, to backing Bob Dylan on his controversial electric tour, to becoming The Band. At that point, they repaired to a bungalow in the Saugerties to create the iconic album Music from Big Pink. The Band rises and falls due to, as happens too often, substance abuse. Robertson who went on to an incredible career scoring film didn’t partake – he had “vision” not drugs – and as his fortunes rose, the other members became embittered. And then finally to The Last Waltz. This is a beautifully crafted Canadian documentary with a wealth of never before seen footage and photos and best of all – hearing those wonderful songs for two hours. Heartbreakingly beautiful film.
Phyllis Ellis’ excellent cautionary documentary Toxic Beauty takes big pharma to task in ways rarely acknowledged. Cancer survivors and those who do not survive tell their stories of drugstore mainstay products that attacked their bodies. US manufacturers Johnson & Johnson, continues to deny culpability for the dangers of materials they put in their products lead, mercury, formaldehyde, parabens, asbestos, talc, phthalates, hormone mimics, silica and coal tar dyes among other known carcinogens. J&J is currently fighting 11,000 talc-related and $4.6 billion in damages. Whistle-blowers and activists make the case against the company and others that rely on cosmetic and personal care formulations that date back to the dirty thirties, often changing the names of chemicals to mask harms and making sick a trusting but unknowing population. The Rachel Carson Silent Spring Foundation named after the 60’s activist, is fighting for warning labels to be added to suspect products, but years of fighting have yielded no results except for awareness. Talcum causes ovarian cancer, its mined in the same places as asbestos, for heaven’s sake! Mercury and lead are used in whitening products. Nail salon operators protesting the chemical they’re exposed to daily, while activists meet and plan. One brave subject, a product-loving medical student underwent a Body Burden test of products and learned that her levels of contamination were massive. The good news is the doc profiles clean product manufacturers like Hawkesbury, Ontario’s Green Beaver Company and the message to find beauty in being stronger and in doing work.
Before You Know It is an offbeat family dramedy set in a packed claustrophobic apartment above a theatre in Manhattan. Mandy Patinkin plays a role well suited to his musical theatrical background and reputation, an eccentric actor, producer and playwright who can’t sell out a house but keeps on trying. He and his grown daughters and a granddaughter have lived there together since the girls were born; their mother died young. They do what they’ve always done, writing, rehearsing and staging plays for minute audiences, driven by a shared, even forced, dream. The sisters (writer-director Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock) are uncomfortably close, under father’ alpha male rules. But while rehearsing a new play, he dies and lets it slip that the girls’ mother is still alive. And she is, in the form of Judith Light who plays an over-the-hill TV soap opera star. The girls finagle their way into her life to find that she is as deep as her maquillage. Revelations follow as the girls sort out their messy over-entwined lives, get their father buried, fix the kid and find some connection to this shallow mother of theirs. Some cute scenes and canny observations on sisters, family life, over the hill alpha makes, and tv stars who still live in their 80’s glory. Alec Baldwin appears for a millisecond as the granddaughter’s needy therapist.
Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary series continues on PBS this week. The master filmmaker’s far-reaching, intensive and hugely entertaining looks at a truly North American art form Sunday and on next week. Sunday night at 8 The Sons and Daughters of America with new country artists like Loretta Lynn and Charley Pride reflect a changing America. Monday night Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Learn what draws artists like Bob Dylan to Nashville as the Vietnam War rages. Tuesday night Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? Witness a vibrant era in country music, thanks to mainstream crossovers and a new “Outlaw” sound. On Wednesday Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’. See how country music works to stay true to its roots as the genre skyrockets to new heights. If you missed earlier episodes The Rub, Hard Times, The Hillbilly Shakespeare and I Can’t Stop Loving You, PBS will repeat online. Meet the earliest innovators, the singing cowboys, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl, rockabilly new wavers and beloved contemporary artists like Dolly Parton. Country music fan or not this fascinating study is eminently binge-worthy.
Doc Martin returns to Acorn TV for Season 9 next Thursday and with it the shenanigans of the tight-knit community of Portwenn, Cornwall. Doc Martin is one of the most successful British TV series in history, around the easily irritated doctor who tends to the village’s mixed bag of residents. In fact, fans will admit he’s Dr. Martin Ellingham, tactless, self-centred, and uptight and he’s afraid of blood. Acorn airs episodes a day after they air for the first time in the UK! So, you’re up to date. Guest stars this season include Danny Huston, Tom Conti and Game of Thrones’ Conleth Hill. The series is so popular fans come from around the world to the coast of England to watch the series shoot, for fan days and the off chance of meeting the Doc himself. Dive in, the water’s fine.
Zach Galifianakis’ ironic humour Funny or Die web series is getting the movie treatment. Between Two Ferns: The Movie now on Netflix and directed by Scott Aukerman reaches way into the depths of ‘ol Zach and that’s a place unlike any other. His entertaining oddness is leavened, with indulgences from guests Matthew McConaughey, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Dinklage, Chrissy Teigen, David Letterman, Jason Schwartzman, Tiffany Haddish, Paul Rust, Paul Rudd, Rashida Jones, John Legend, Adam Scott, Brie Larson, Jon Hamm, Awkwafina, Hailee Steinfeld, John Cho, Keanu Reeves, Chance the Rapper, and more. The schtick is Galifianakis taking his “public access show” on the road thereby exposing the world to his zany reality. I interviewed him once and was perplexed that he seemed angry with me and did the interview mad. I see now that it was patter. He put me on edge and this is what he does to these “so-called celebrities” (his words). Now I get it!
Just got around to Netflix’ Dave Chapelle newish comedy special Sticks & Stones and he’s in fine form. He’s edgy, dangerous, difficult and provocative. As ever, he challenges our beliefs as he takes us on trips to the dark side. He’s wearing a jumpsuit bearing his name, looking like a prisoner which, I think is his intent. He opens with a pointed reminder that Anthony Bourdain killed himself, he had the ultimate job and lifestyle and did the deed in a luxury hotel in France. His point is no one has a perfect life. Michael Jackson is next, Chappelle doesn’t believe he was a pedophile. He says he’s not either but if he had a shot at little Macaulay Culkin… On the other hand, he’s pretty sure R. Kelly is one. He has a #MeToo headache and mourns his disgraced pal Louis C.K. If this doesn’t polarise audiences, well, stay tuned. Next, it’s the internecine politics of the LGBTQ community, the absurdity of school shooting drills, the white parents that raise shooters, and the solution African Americans could use to end these horrors. He explains why blacks didn’t rise up when “Juicy Sommelier” was arrested. This is one heavy hour of totally inflammatory comedy landmines. Chappelle is fascinating, sophisticated, and what sets him apart, fearless.
Good news from the Corp’s acclaimed original hit comedy series Schitt’s Creek returns January 7 with 14 new and final episodes. I’m told “This season, the Roses are achieving huge success in their careers and personal lives, forcing them all to contemplate their inevitable next steps.” Co-created by Eugene Levy and Daniel Levy, the series is nominated for Best Comedy Series, Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Catherine O’Hara), Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Eugene Levy) and Outstanding Contemporary Costumes. Since its debut in 2015, Schitt’s Creek has won 95 award nominations and 35 wins to date and appeared on more than 30 ‘Best Of’ lists in 2018. TV Guide called it “the best show on TV right now.” Can’t wait! Here are some Moira Moments.
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI