Paul McGuigan’s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool looks at the real life romantic and sexual relationship between Hollywood noir queen and femme fatale Gloria Grahame and Peter Turner an aspiring Liverpool actor 28 years her junior. They met in his parent’s Liverpool boarding house in 1975 with a flirtation that morphed into a fiery sexual affair and they fell in love. Peter’s middle class family accepted the affair, loving and helping Gloria through her many legal and health problems, the stable family she never had. Annette Bening and Jamie Bell have real chemistry as the pair in this moving portrait and Turner makes a touching cameo as a stagehand. The Broccoli family that owns the 007 franchise knew the couple and produced the film.
Hollow in the Land stars Dianna Agron as Allison the guardian of her troubled teenaged brother (Jared Abrahamson of Hello Destroyer!) in a poverty stricken community in the B.C. Mountains. Rachelle Lefevre plays Allison’s lover and Shawn Ashmore is a sympathetic local policeman who fears she’s targeted because of her family’s murky history and because she’s gay. Her brother goes missing following a particularly brutal murder and he’s tagged as the prime suspect. Allison refuses to believe he did it and sets out on a harrowing journey to find him and the real killer. The tension is unbearable at times but she never loses courage. Writer director Scooter Corkle shot his debut feature in his hometown of Castlegar B.C. and permeates it with a strong sense of isolation, depressingly bad weather and generational decay offset by familial devotion.
The Insult (قضية رقم) nominated for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language film and directed by Ziad Doueiri was a big hit in Toronto and Venice. A hot- tempered Palestinian refugee heading a construction crew in Beirut is accidentally sprayed by a local Christian watering his plants. They have words and tempers flare and neither will back down. Events escalate at a hell of a clip and the men lose control over their lives. A media circus gloms onto the ensuing court case and “the insult” becomes an ugly political bellwether. Meanwhile their private lives are falling apart and they still can’t face each other and fix it. The Insult’s a sobering study of biases that ruin lives and change the course of history.
Sally Sussman’s riveting doc Midnight Return: The Story of Bill Hayes and Turkey brings an international nightmare into sharp focus. Billy Hayes’ story of internment and his bizarre escape from a Turkish prison was vividly explored in Alan Parker’s 1978 film Midnight Express. Hayes signed a book and movie deal in 1975, a week after his return to the US; he was a hero and international celebrity but he was branded as an “enemy of Turkey.”
Alan Parker’s feature was a sensation in the west but had a lasting negative impact on Turkey which considers the film racist and defamatory. The film varies considerably from Hayes’ book and that’s not surprising considering the screenplay was written by Oliver Stone who may have invented much of it for dramatic effect. Also Hayes told the producers he’d never trafficked in drugs but later stated publically he’d done four prior drug runs to Turkey so there was blame enough for all. A few years ago, Hayes embarked on a mission to repair his image and relationship with Turkey, visiting twice and apologising. Illuminating interviews with Parker, Oliver Stone, Peter Guber, David Puttnam, the Hayes family and fellow prisoners debunk some of Billy’s stories and vice versa. A few years back the English National Opera Company turned Hayes’ exploits into a musical.
CBC’s The Secret is a nerve-shattering British limited series starring James Nesbitt and Genevieve O’Reilly and directed Nick Murphy. Two couples attend church together in a small town in Northern Ireland. But two of them, the dentist and the Sunday school teacher are having an affair. They concoct a finely detailed plot to do away with their partners and handheld cameras capture every nuance of the preamble, murders and aftermath. Its extreme minimalism within the framework of the complex emotions shreds nerves, as there no distractions from their chosen path. Lifelike moments add realism, as when we eavesdrop on the church elders asking Collin not to return to the church after his wife’s funeral without telling him why. Something as small and telling as that is rarely present in mainstream dramas; these writers know what they’re doing. And egad! It’s based on a real life crime.
Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders is available on Sundance Canada now, revisiting the 1959 spree killing of four members of the Clutter family in their isolated farmhouse in Holcomb, Kansas. Dick Hickock and Perry Smith entered the unlocked home based on a jailhouse tip that there was a $100k hidden inside, then walked from room to room shooting the Clutter parents and two children. Truman Capote explored the case in the first “non-fiction novel” In Cold Blood and after spending extended periods of time with the accused, and falling in love with one of them. Capote sympathised with them and attended their executions by hanging and later stated that the case and the writing cut him to the marrow. This excellent documentary limited series features interviews with surviving family members who have not spoken publicly before, with neighbours and friends and three branches of law enforcement that investigated the case. It’s fine to watch, and not as horrifying as I feared.
Acorn TV’s Original Series with Girlfriends is a winner! Actors Miranda Richardson, Phyllis Logan and Zoe Wanamaker star in this gripping six part series on the issues, pains and joys of friends of forty years. The characters are powerfully defined, each her own person, each interacting in her unique fashion, and each hiding something from the others and dealing with life beyond the favoured demographic. One raises her grandson because the mother is a heroin addict and her son is absent, another is under suspicion of murdering her husband, and the third is feeling vengeful when she’s fired from the ad agency she founded because of her age, by her husband! The girls support and love one another as best they can. But never fear, it’s not all gloom, there’s plenty of laughter and charm and breezy good times to go around.
Toronto Public Library card holders you are in for a treat. A streaming service called Kanopy, boasting 30,000 films, is available for the price of a library card. Kanopy is an on-demand video platform that allows users to experience a curated collection of the world’s best films, in partnership with more than 4,000 libraries around the world. Toronto Public Library users can watch eight films per month at no cost and commercial free! All available films can be seen here: http://torontopl.kanopystreaming.com
Key titles include the Oscar nominated films Manchester By the Sea, Brooklyn, I Am Not Your Negro, and The Lobster, Cannes Film Festival favorites Paterson, and I, Daniel Blake, rare films like Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Two Days in Paris and the 2016 Todd Solondz critical darling, Wiener-Dog. The prestigious Criterion Collection is also available.
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