Sunday 17 November 2019
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What She Said! with Christine Bentley & Kate Wheeler
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Why Wasn’t I Invited to That Party? Looking at the Past for Answers, Hunting a Hunter and WhoHaha!

This is the time and the way to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s multi-Oscar nominated Phantom Thread as we head towards the Oscars. Daniel Day-Lewis is stunning as a controlling, precise, hard to please fashion designer who moulds a country girl into a suitable romantic partner. He then discovers that is was she who pulled the strings. Intriguing, maddening and borderline disturbing, Phantom Thread is also a gorgeous essay on mid-century women’s wear design. But here’s the thing, it is playing as of tonight March 2 at TIFF Bell Lightbox in luscious 70 mm!! I may swoon.

Sally Potter’s scathing social satire The Party, shot in black and white in three claustrophobic rooms is unnerving, hard to watch and it is thankfully short given the compression of nerves and shocks.  And it’s also terrific and it’s funny as heck. What may be the most unpleasant dinner party of all time brings together a perfectly presentable group of middle class English friends – a politician, artists, a banker, a professor, a realist and a healer, gathering to celebrate Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) who has been named Minster of Health.  Her husband announces he has a terminal disease, he is holding an explosive secret and plays music loud enough to drown out what his guests say. Tom arrives and heads immediately to the loo some cocaine and to check his gun.  A lesbian couple announces they are pregnant with male triplets, and a realist, permanently fired with general incandescent anger, brays at her lover, a gentle German healer.  Big betrayals, revelations and confrontations are the order of the evening and its extra spicy given the limited space they’re sharing. They are made ridiculous as Potter uses techniques of French farce; doors slam, running, hurried meetings in dark corners, sly jabs and exaggeration. Tom stands unsteadily on the kitchen table, high as a kite, batting out a fire, gun in his pocket, as Janet ponders her husband’s impending death and sneaks quick texts to her lover, spanning vastly different emotions in a moment. The precision cinematography, choreography and attention to detail make it work. Potter’s charged hour and ten minutes is bracing, highly entertaining, and deeply funny and sad.  Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer and Bruno Ganz co-star.

Mark Pellington’s operatic mediation on stuff Nostalgia isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I found it poignant and powerful. An insurance appraiser played sensitively by John Ortiz spends his workdays interviewing people who have suffered losses, listening to their intimate stories and never allowing himself to personalise them.  He shows his respect privately. He enters the burned-to-the-ground home of Ellen Burstyn’s devastated character; he turns an imaginary door handle, enters what was once the living room and warms his hands by the blackened fireplace. He leaves “closing” the front door. Then he hears what her children have to say about her things being unimportant. Oh and how about putting her in assisted living? She takes a valued baseball to sports appraiser Jon Hamm and the action shifts to his life.  He’s enroute to clear his parents’ home with his sister played by Catherine Keener. She’s attached to the stuff, but he is too stirred by it to keep anything.  A young person dies but having lived a life on computers and phones, she leaves no physical remnants of herself.  Pellington’s pacing and silences let the idea of change settle in viscerally; do tangible things have any meaning? Why don’t we pay more attention? Co-stars Catherine Keener, Nick Offerman, Bruce Dern and James le Gros.

Never Steady, Never Still the stunning debut feature from writer-director Kathleen Hepburn stars the fearless Scottish actress, rural Canadian accent and all, Shirley Henderson, as a vulnerable wife and mother living in remote northern B.C. The vastness of the land around them means domestic tasks are challenging or impossible especially for her as she has severe Parkinson’s, which may be linked to a lifetime working in the paper mills. Her son is moody and difficult but adores his mother. He hooks up with a pregnant 17 year old as he questions his own sexuality. The doting husband (the mighty Nicholas Campbell) suffers a heart attack and dies while out fishing, leaving her to cope when she can barely lift a kettle. Henderson plays the role full bore with its unbelievably demanding physical work, even as her character is as gentle as a butterfly.  The film doesn’t try to solve anything but instead paints a gripping and expressive picture –the film is simply unforgettable.  It’s up for eight Canadian Screen Awards, and co-stars Théodore Pellerin, Mary Galloway, Lorne Cardinal and Hello Destroyer’s Jared Abrahamson.

Red Sparrow directed by Francis Lawrence based on the spy thriller by Jason Matthews stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons. Wow. Lawrence is a Russian ballerina sidelined by injury groomed to become a Red Sparrow, for the Russian intelligence agency – that means weaponizing herself, using sex and smarts to achieve her mission against the CIA, via an American agent played by Joel Edgerton. Thing is, she doesn’t like what she has become.

Steven Soderbergh’s HBO limited series Mosaic is set in the wealthy upper crust of society in Park City, Utah and concerns power, money, greed and murder. Sharon Stone plays Olivia, a successful children’s book author whose mountain home with stunning views is the envy of all. She lords it over the locals, entertains a string of younger men and hosts fancy fundraisers.  She’s rubbed someone the wrong way and that could be a lot of people. Olivia disappears from her house party on New Year’s Day and the only clue is her blood spattered studio.  The boarder and her casual lover (Garrett Hedlund) fought with her the day before because his girlfriend moved in with him on her property. The same day she had a loud fight with her latest boyfriend Eric (Frederick Weller) a small time conman.  He’s arrested and  he’s so oily we want him to be the murderer, but not so fast.  The local sheriff (Devin Ratray) and Eric’s sister work together to find out what happened she her hand is discovered in a river.  Get this – there’s a possibility someone offed her in order to take possession of her home with its “pristine views”. Whoa!  Digital Download on Monday, March 5th.

Hulu’s chilling limited series The Looming Tower based on the award winning book traces American efforts to contain the rising threat of Osama Bin-Laden and Al-Qaeda in the 1990s.  It’s a gripping insider’s look at the people and agencies tasked with identifying, tracing and shutting down radical factions and their ultimate failure. The FBI and CIA’s systemic rivalry puts the investigation in disarray further aggravated by personals agendas in both agencies.  The I-49 Squad in New York and Alec Station in Washington, D.C., the counter-terrorism divisions of the FBI and CIA have intelligence about a potential attack on the US by an a new and unknown radical movement. Jeff Daniels is a brilliant strategic leader an uncanny ability to read people and act quickly, but he failed to cross check with other investigations.  Also the highest levels of the American government refuse to believe an attack by Al Qaeda, an unknown entity, is imminent.  And then it happened on September 11, 2001.   Co-stars Tahar Rahim, Michael Stuhlbarg and Peter Skarsgård. This will make your blood boil.

Acorn’s new six-episode series Ackley Bridge looks at daily life in a school in a diverse Yorkshire village. This brave new world is engaging and recognisable as students, teachers and families try to make things work. Students have troubles like teenagers everywhere, dealing with school, and the parents, each other. One bike riding thirteen year old boy kidnaps a baby and smuggles him into school.  A beloved teacher’s semi-naked beach selfie is sent to the entire school by her daughter, you know, just the usual. Lots of fresh insights humour and tears illustrate how we have and haven’t progressed.  The white and Asian communities don’t care much for each other and have been placed together in a multi-cultural school per a governmental initiative.  It’s described as a “microcosm of modern Britain”.  Stars Jo Joyner, Anneika Rose, Poppy Lee Friar and Arsher Ali who is suddenly everywhere!

WhoHaha – Elizabeth Banks has an online platform for funny women and it’s a blast. WhoHaha features every comedienne you can imagine plus dramatic actors taking a trip down comedy lane, famous figures doing their bit and rising stars aplenty. Tiffany Haddish, Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Mariska Hargitay Sherri Shepard and an army of young up and comers offers laughs in short bites.  

Now up on WhoHaha is the Canadian comedy series Ghost BFF. It’s a darkly funny digital series about two inseparable twenty somethings, once-BFFs Amy and Tara. Tara is depressed and commits suicide, leaving behind her grieving and anxiety-ridden best friend. Fast-forward 3 years, Amy seemingly has her life together again. She’s taking medication to help control her anxiety, visiting group therapy, and is engaged to a sweet but very conservative young man. That’s when Tara’s ghost shows up and Amy’s entire reality changes. Hilarity ensues as her now ‘ghost-BFF’ guides her through messy romances, life situations and girl talk. It aims to take a blunt and honest look at life for those about to make their way, and to address issues like suicide, anxiety, depression and love in new ways. It stars Vanessa Matsui and Kaniehtiio Horn.

The 8th annual Toronto Irish Film Festival is on now until Sunday at TIFF Bell Lightbox offering award-winning features, documentaries and family-friendly animated films, some of which are making their North American premières. 

The focus this year is addressing the pertinent issues of today’s world, including same-sex relationships, mental health and delicate political negotiation. First up is the opening night gala A Date for Mad Maryby director Darren Thornton and starring Seána Kerslake, Carolyn Bracken and Charleigh Bailey. A woman recently out of prison seeking a date for her best friend’s wedding, if she can find one.

Norma Twomey’s The Breadwinner exec produced by Angelina Jolie tells the story of an impoverished Afghan girl forced to disguise herself as a boy in order to feed her family.   The Short Film Showcase features Maze, based on the 1983 prison breakout by 38 IRA members the most sensational escape in Europe since WWII.

Also playing are Zoo, George Best: All By Himself, and the closing night film In the Name of Peace, a documentary on the efforts to create a lasting agreement between North and South, with archival footage and interviews with Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, Bono, Tony Blair and Irish politicians and activists.

Stratford Festival’s Stage to Screen series continues with Romeo and Juliet in select theatres March 3rd at 12:55 p.m. The ageless tragedy of star-crossed teens who will do anything for love features the deadly rivalry between the Capulets and the Montagues that lit the fire, and the tragedy that befell them. William Shakespeare knew what was what in matters amorous. Sara Farb and Antoine Yared are directed by Scott Wentworth.

by @annebrodie

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