Movie & TV reviews by Anne Brodie, BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI
X-Men Logan and Professor X – Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart – are at the end of their ropes in this latest dark, end days actioner meant as a sequel to 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine and 2013’s The Wolverine. It’s not necessary to have seen X-Men films spanning the last 17 years to appreciate it; it’s something altogether different, a bleak, stand-alone following two ageing superheroes on the down ward slope, charged with protecting a young mutant girl. It’s set in a desert hell of lawlessness and crime where doom lives, graphic, excessive violence of the body chopping variety. Director James Mangold takes no prisoners.
Before I Fall stars Zoey Deutsch who hasn’t a single bad facial angle. She is Samantha, part of a group of privileged Seattle high school mean girls who plan to attend a big party on Friday night. The alpha blonde sets in events in motion that lead to tragedy and is unmoved by what she caused. The next day Samantha wakes up and the same things happens, and the next day and the next. She watches herself acting out, her part in the preventable tragedy and a terrifying build – then nothing. I have a lot of respect for something that sounds preposterous but hits the mark. It delivers an anti-bullying message to all the mean girls out there in ways that are authentic, contemporary and plain. It’s never too late to develop a backbone and a conscience. It’s elegantly executed and takes place in a dark frame which includes human hearts and that repeating overcast, menacing sky. Nice!
Elle Fanning and Dane DeHaan provide voices for a pair of plucky orphans in the charming animated Canada France co-pro Ballerina. Felice and Victor escape the cruel confines of the orphanage for a better life in Paris. She’s a natural born dancer and dreams of joining the corps de ballet at the renowned Grand Opera. But even a natural born talent needs money, connections and reputation to join none of which are hers. She faces the toughest odds, politics, scheming rivals, wicked stage mothers, mortal danger and adventure with faithful Victor right by her side. The odds are stacked against them but native smarts, optimism and talent win the day. The ballet sequences will appeal to youngsters and could spark a passion for dance in boys and girls. It’s aimed at the young set, with perky, colourful animation and a relatable tween heroine.
Bitter Harvest is the fact-based story of a Yuri and Natalka, a young couple in a small rural village in Ukraine in the early 30s who become witnesses to evil. Ukraine was the breadbasket of Europe but its citizens starved to death. Up to 7.5M victims went to their graves and the international community had no idea. Natalka becomes pregnant and stays in her community as it collapses under Russian occupation and her husband joins the resistance movement in Kiev. Only in 1991 was the truth behind the famine revealed when a journalist broke the story. Stalin created Holodomor, a politically motivated genocide, a manufactured famine to rid the country of patriots and ease a Russian takeover. It’s an incredible story that illuminates Soviet behaviour in the years leading up to WWII and the nature of evil that overtook all of Europe shortly after. Bitter Harvest is moderately successful in cinematic terms but honours the memory of the millions who died in this painful chapter of Ukrainian history.
Catfight time!! FX premieres its limited series FEUD: Bette and Joan Sunday night at 10, another slam dunk from Ryan Murphy. It’s the sordid story of the rivalry between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) up to, during and after the brutal shoot for the 1962 horror hit Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? These Queens of Hollywood fought ageism, sexism, and misogyny as they fought one another for dominance, launching vicious attacks on another, the kind that made their way into Hollywood history. Alfred Molina plays their traumatised director Robert Aldrich and Judy Davis is the scheming gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who sways the women for her own gain. Wait till you see Crawford’s maid Mamacita as she pulls Crawford’s strings! So much to revel in here. It’s exciting, nasty, absurd and wickedly witty. Catherine Zeta-Jones is Olivia de Havilland, Sarah Paulson Geraldine Page, Kathy Bates is Joan Blondell and these gals love to spill the beans. Feel the glorious, eye poppingly colourful schadenfreude!
This just in! FX has announced it has set the second installment of the limited series Feud to air in ten installments in 2018. Get this – Feud: Charles and Diana. The mind reels.
Also débuting Sunday night at 10 is the third and final season of Broadchurch debuts Sunday at 10 on exclusively on Showcase. The series picks up three years after the Danny Latimer’s murder, reuniting as Detective Inspector Alec Hardy ( David Tennant) and Detective Sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman). They’re called to investigate a particularly grisly sexual assault in the town which they believe was planned by a serial predator. Nothing beats Broadchurch for its seaside Dorset setting, the beautifully nuanced and understated acting and its original style of storytelling. Broadchurch will be also available online at www.showcase.ca the following day.
Shivers me timbers, Suspects is back in its fifth season on www.acorn.tv and on DVD Tuesday. This nerve-shredding series is set in a police station in the English Midlands. Two detectives (Damien Molony and Clare-Hope Ashitey) with opposing methods of solving cases and who’s beloved Inspector has just been murdered run into overdrive to solve her murder. And the murderer strikes again. And again. The detectives find themselves falling down a rabbit hole of organised crime and possible police corruption infiltrating their office. This is powerful stuff; I screamed three times watching the series, not from gore, but shock. Incredibly the actors improvise their own scripts based on what they must accomplish in a scene. This will get your heart pounding.
Decanted: A Winemaker’s Journey takes us behind the scenes and into the vineyards of California ‘s Napa valley wine district to witness the making of a first vintage over several seasons, the business of wine making and the crazy drive the vintners display to get their very best out to market. It’s now available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. Directed by Nicholas Kovacic.