Monday 9 December 2019
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What She Said! with Christine Bentley & Kate Wheeler

Anthropocene: Environmental Tipping Point, Keira Knightley’s Sexy Biopic, Lizzie Borden, Joan Jett, Two Stellar DVD Releases and Bufferfest! – And Cake!

The TIFF films Fahrenheit 11/9Sharkwater Extinction and Jennifer Baichwal’s stunning documentary Anthropocene are the trinity of enlightened environmental films that must be seen. Each is an alarm warning us that our future and the planet’s ability to sustain us are not certain.  Baichwal, Nic de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky documented the state of the environment over years, releasing Manufactured Landscapes, Watermark (as well as the Gord Downie final tour doc Long Time Running) and know time is of the essence; it is painfully clear in this provocative, masterfully made film. They believe we have left the Holocene post-glacier era are now in The Anthropocene Epoch, in which human interference with nature has caused lasting and irreversible damage –  climate change, mountains of non-biodegradable, choking living species, diminishing elements the earth needs to live and the human reshaping of the earth and its systems.  The team traveled to seven continents and twenty countries, endangering themselves as they shot inside a Russian potash mine, a marble mountain being chopped away  in Italy, the concrete beaches of China, chasing the story of the planet’s impending failure. It’s a stunning wakeup call, and thanks to the travel, work and thought of the filmmakers, it is equally stunning to look at.  Alicia Vikander narrates. The Anthropocene Project includes exhibitions premiering September 28 at the Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada, with new Burtynsky photographs, new film installations by Baichwal and de Pencier, experiences in augmented and virtual reality, a book published by Steidl, and education program. 

Of all the theories that have come forth about the infamous Lizzie Borden murders, the scenario posed in Lizzie seems to have the ring of truth. On August 4th, 1892 on a stifling day in Fall River, Massachusetts, someone hacked to death Andrew and Abby Borden in their home. Andrew’s daughter Lizzie was charged and acquitted, stating that a woman of Borden’s breeding couldn’t have done such a deed. And yet and police didn’t seek other suspects. Craig William Macneill’s gruesome and provocative study sheds a reasonable light on the whys and wherefores. Chloe Sevigny, who produced the film, plays Lizzie as a self-realised spinster harbouring simmering rage against her father and his new wife. Kristen Stewart is the new maid Bridget, who returns Lizzie’s friendly and sexual affections and enters into a conspiracy to murder the Bordens, driven by Andrew’s repeated sexual assaults on her.  The Borden home is cinematically claustrophobic, neat as a pin, a rabbit warren of tiny rooms. It’s quiet and suffocating, a sombre place where listening in to other’s conversation and activities is unavoidable. Brooding tensions are high at the best of times, but a relative has come to fleece them and Lizzie sees his game. It’s a small but earnest film that pretends to be nothing more than it is – an exploitative and grimy look at one of the most notorious murders in American history.

Keira Knightley moves her image in a new direction in Wash Westmoreland’s historical biography Colette. When we think of the life in the 19th and the early 20th century Europe, we tend to think the repression of the British Victorianism as a strong influence. But in Paris, we find a Colette married to a bestselling author played by Dominic West, and becomes aware of her own desires and being.  She’s a gifted writer, as her husband’s editor and ideas go-to.  She writes an erotic novel, based in part on their sexually adventurous lives in Paris’ literary and arts set, and published it under her husband’s name. The book was a massive success, and he encourages, and then demands she write more.  She does but secretly finds a publisher who releases it under her name. It’s a bestseller and causes a sensation; she’s now an internationally beloved celebrity as well as a reviled libertine, but she’s completely herself unencumbered by her shocked husband.  It’s an inspiring tale of empowerment told through a lens of love, acceptance and humanity. Knightley presents Colette as a feminist lesbian, a pioneer, able to speak directly and fully. The beautiful cinematography, costuming and art direction reek of sensuality.

Joan Jett, a later feminist and pioneer is the subject of Kevin Kerslake’s doc Bad Reputation. Her parents told her she could do anything she set her mind to, gave the thirteen-year old a guitar and Jett hasn’t stopped playing, at age 58.  Jett gathered like-minded female musicians to play glitter and punk rock in LA (as Iggy Pop says in the doc, not all girls wanted to be Joni Mitchell) and gained a small following under maverick Kim Fowley.  The Runaways couldn’t secure support, bookings or respect because the socially primitive world of 70’s disallowed women from playing rock. Over time as her ability and influence grew but little changed till she found producer Kenny Laguna who fought for her. Demos by the new band Joan Jett and the Blackhearts were rejected by 23 record companies, that is, all of them, so she created her own label. Find out why a trip to Japan was a tipping point, how Jett’s heart infection spurred artistic growth, why she turned down Noriega’s offer of friendship, and what she’s doing these days. Cherie Curie, Miley Cyrus, Kathleen Hanna, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Pete Townshend, Kristen Stewart Michael J. Fox and many more offer their reflections on Joanie on iTunes and On Demand Sept. 28th.

In DVD release Tuesday is Debra Granik’s sobering Leave No Trace based on Peter Rock’s fact-based book My Abandonment, a compelling study of survival, family bonds and the crippling effect of PTSD. Ben Foster is Will and Thomasin Mackenzie is his daughter Tom.  They are homeless and camped out illegally in Portland’s massive urban park.  They’ve built a sustainable long term “home” in the woods and life on the fringes is good.  Tom’s homeschooling includes “the drill” – how to escape camp and disappear into the brush in case the authorities show up. One fateful day she lets her guard down and she’s spotted.  Police show up, arrest and separate them, put them through psychological testing and forcibly house them.  She says optimistically that everything is different now and he replies “Our camp was such a good one. Yeah we stayed too long”.  A job and compulsory church attendance put him on edge but she craves a “normal” life.  He makes her run again only to see their woods camp bulldozed. They hitchhike north and nearly succumb to freezing temperatures but Will’s paranoia outranks all other considerations including Tom’s welfare.  She reminds him that she “doesn’t have” what he has, and they reach a heartbreaking impasse. The woodland cinematography is breathtaking; the woods have never felt so real on film. Leave No Trace is a powerful and devastating call for help for ill veterans, a love letter to nature and familial love.  Mackenzie is effortlessly lifelike in a stunning, delicate performance and Foster is as usual, stellar and dominant. Look out awards season!

Also on DVD a gripping true story, Tim Wardle’s doc Three Identical Strangers follows American triplets separated at birth and reunited in a series of coincidences which veers into shock and horror.  Following the joy of finding one another in 1980 at age nineteen, to life under intense media scrutiny to tragedy to revelations of wrongs done to them; this incredible true story uncovers horrific, wounding recklessness under New York’s elite medical community. Bobby Sharan, Eddy Galland and David Kellman learned that they had been farmed out to separate homes as toddlers by the prestigious Jewish adoption agency Louise Wise Services. The agency ran a secret programme of separating twins and triplets to different families in order to run lifelong psychological tests on the effects of early separation. The men were devastated by the news but felt it explained a lot.  The filmmakers diligently followed the trail and discovered why high ranking New York lawyers and psychiatrists who knew about the practice kept their mouths shut. Absolutely chilling.

READ: Director Tim Wardle talks ‘Three Identical Strangers’

The second season of CBC’s The Great Canadian Baking Show is back with hosts Dan Levy and Julia Chan, and judges Rochelle Adonis and Bruno Faldeisen and all new bakers from across our land. If you’re a fan of the original British show, you’ll notice that Canada’s bakes are decidedly unique, reflecting our tastes and preferences, the way they should be. Levy and Chan sparkle with their sweet chemistry and sense of whimsy. Just one little beef. The British version is fun and lighthearted but the tone here is tighter. The judges aren’t fun; it’s all business and their clipped responses leave me deflated, like a sad soufflé.

The Sixth Annual Buffer Festival is on now until Sunday at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto showcasing the work of 80 online “creators”.  There are stories from viral video artists with a gift for using the medium to express themselves. Whitney Avalon has 1.4 M subscribers whose work features appearances by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Eliza Dushku and Yvonne Strahovski and Princess Rap Battles.  Her new “children’s” show “Don’t Be A” with puppets, singing, and despair is not for kids.  Hannah Witton tackles her ulcerative colitis diagnosis and ponders social issues in her Disability and Relationships Roundtable.  Ashley Wylde looks at the heavily gendered features of the Spanish language and explores religious and gender roles with four people who identify as both nonbinary and LatinX.  Sammy Paul presents a new music video from dodie but won’t reveal the title- yet. That’s just a taste of what’s on tap. Check out the schedule here:

by @annebrodie

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