banner shot of The vast of Night emailed earlier
The docuseries Dear… launches Monday on Apple TV+ and is under strict review embargo. It’s about beloved cultural figures receiving thank you letters from people around the world who were inspired by them. R.J. Cutler shines the light of gratitude on Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, Spike Lee, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Yara Shahidi, Stevie Wonder, Aly Raisman, Misty Copeland, Big Bird and more. This is not a review. But make time to see it.
Tracee Ellis Ross and Dakota Johnson star in the uplifting music-driven dramedy The High Note on VOD and I enjoyed its brightness, music and characters. Ross plays a world-renowned pop singer, akin to her real-life mother Diana Ross, and Johnson plays her personal assistant with dreams of writing and producing her. Some say Ross’ Grace is at the peak of her long career, while some hint she’s over the other side. Maggie (Johnson) understands the ego and perfectionism of an international superstar and nurtures her in ways that Grace doesn’t even begin to realise. Ice Cube, Grace’ manager is trying to wrest a money-making Best of… album from her that smacks of desperation, while Maggie’s’ pushing her to aim higher artistically and personally. We’re told only five women over 40 have ever had a hit and only one black woman so she’s up against serious odds. It’s an engaging look at the burden of fame, the magic of inspiration and love, produced by Brit Tim Bevan whose film body of work includes those fab Brit romcoms of the 90s.
Amazon Prime Video’s engrossing sci-fi film The Vast of Night, starring Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowitz has much to appreciate, a possible alien invasion in 1950’s New Mexico desert town, authentic performances, fresh writing, realism and a simmering hiss of existential threat. Two teens, one working in a radio station and the other on a switchboard chat while a high school championship game gets underway nearby. The two notice a strange frequency overtaking the airwaves and phone signal, intermittently cutting communication. The kids look for the source and after receiving an anonymous phone call warning of an interstellar threat cum military mystery. The local theatre’s showing The Vast of Night, the film we’re watching. First-time director Andrew Patterson shows mastery and imagination and reminds me of Francis Ford Coppola’s work with its interesting style, wide vistas, and a one-take feel. Interesting ideas like all- electronic roads, self-driving cars and an underground train from NYC to San Fran add sizzle with a conspiracy theory to die for. Just freaking amazeballs.
Hlynur Pálmason’s highly regarded award-winning festival film A White, White Day is on VOD now, thankfully. An off-duty Icelandic police officer (Ingvar Sigurdsson) mourning the sudden death of his wife lives in a remote, mountain horse farm. Time passes in a most cinematic manner, to become beguiling and moody. He’s building a container style home for his daughter and her family and has a close relationship with his granddaughter, who’s cheery nature is heightened when she slams a salmon to death. It’s perpetually foggy and bright and an occasional horse wanders inside, along with other bizarre details. Hints of underlying unrest and trauma emerge, awkward visits to his police station, a children’s TV show clown telling them they’re going to die. Grandfather seizes on the idea that his late wife was unfaithful with a neighbour and erupts in violence. The tension is unbearable at times, in this isolated, old-world community as he faces his primal self. Its worlds away from us and of course, tellingly familiar. A frosty breath of fresh air.
CBC Gem has the acclaimed UK series Normal People, a sprawling twelve-parter based on Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal star as school friends; she is brainy and unpopular because she’s brainy, he’s popular and a football star. An unlikely couple but they begin a steamy sexual affair, keeping it secret because of local classism and tribalism. His mother is her mother’s cleaning lady and that just won’t do. School cliques are well established and she’s an outsider, intimidating and without friends. Marianne resists falling in love with Connell, but he does not. He confides in his mother who calls him cruel and disrespectful for keeping their relationship quiet. Later they attend Trinity College in Dublin and see some of the world, including her family’s Italian estate, as their relationship evolves and reshapes itself. An absorbing and ambitious series that’s set viewing records over ‘ome. If you like YA coming of age stories, this is for you.
The real-life murder of five family members in an English farmhouse on August 6/7, 1985 is the basis of the grimly fascinating White House Farm series beginning June 3 on CBC TV and CBC Gem. The Bamber family were sleeping in their Tolleshunt D’Arcy, Essex home when tragedy struck. Grandparents Nevill and June Bamber were shot and killed, then their daughter Sheila Caffell, and her six-year-old twin sons, Daniel, and Nicholas. The police learn she was schizophrenic, and she held the shotgun in her hand, so it seems an open and shut case. But soon things point in a different direction as friends and relatives come by to offer their support and gossip about the murders, family dramas and theories. The charismatic, distinctly odd son Jeremy starts looking likely as family traumas, and inheritance issues become clearer. His past is sketchy, and personality is unstable but he’s fluid and clever. Warning, it’s not a good feeling seeing the depiction of two small children lying lifeless in their beds. This is an absorbing take on one of the UK’s most notorious recent mass murders featuring incredible work by Stephen Graham as the investigating detective.
Speaking of inheritance, that’s the title of an American family drama now available on VOD. Vaughn Stein’s Inheritance stars Lily Collins as a hardnosed criminal lawyer whose wealthy family has significant influence and plenty of dysfunction. Her father (Seinfeld’s Puddy, Patrick Warburton cast way against type) an intensive and secretive man dies leaving a video message for her to fix something sinister near her childhood fort. She finds a dungeon and a man (an unrecognisable Simon Pegg) chained to the walls, claiming to have been put there by her father thirty years earlier, and begging her to free him. She needs info first, hardnosed, see, and he says no. As outrageous as it sounds, and the fact she wears stilettos to trek to the fort in the woods at night, and occasional clunkery, it’s fun! Pegg’s cast against type as a rather breathtaking individual.
End of Sentence follows an American man (John Hawkes) who manages to convince his hellion son (Logan Lehman) to come to Ireland with him to scatter his late wife’s ashes. Father and son are long-estranged; the young man’s disorganized thinking and resentments seem odd, considering how agreeable and loving his father is. They attend her wake in Dublin, with a wild girl the lad picked up before heading to lake country. The widower learns that the lake has romantic meaning for his late wife, it was where she and another man lived. He determines to find out what he was to her, as his heart breaks. And his son has a gradual thawing and the possibility of redemption – a remarkable character study and emotional journey, raised up by Hawke’s devastating performance.
The documentary Parkland Rising from executive producers Katie Couric and will.i.am streams June 2nd at 8 pm with a second screening on June 5th at 7 pm EST on virtual theatrical screenings. The young students of Florida’s Dorothy Stoneman Douglas High School were victims of the Valentine’s Day massacre in 2017. Tragically seventeen people died, but what rose up was the spirit of activism as students came forward demanding change to gun laws; they launched the #NeverAgain #MarchforOurLives movements and travelled the US – against great odds and danger – to spread their message, calling for responsible gun ownership and the muting of the NRA. David Hogg and Emma Gonsalves endured harassment and threats to get their message out, so hear what they have to say.
Hollywood Suite’s Original Documentary Raising the Dead: Re-Examining Night Of The Living Dead pays homage to the great pre-zombie apocalypse zombie film. As various scholars and fans point out, the undead slow-walking flesh eaters were not referred to in George A. Romero’s film as zombies but as “ghouls”, but chacun a son gout. They do the same things but NOTLD did it exceptionally well. While zombies have evolved over the years since it premiered in 1968, it set the standard with its simplicity, focus, cast, political, social, media and personal subtext. Alicia Fletcher likens the NOTLD ghoul invasion as “infection and contagion” to which everyone is susceptible, right? Fun, illuminating and a worthy salute to Romero. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead follow the doc’s world broadcast premiere Hollywood Suite 70s Movie channel. It’s in colour, obvs. but available in all black and white – my choice On Demand, on the Hollywood Suite GO app and on HSGO.ca.
The Toronto Jewish Film Festival Part One goes digital as TJFF2020 Online Festival May 30 – June 7. 30+ international film dramas, comedies, documentaries, shorts, and archival pieces will screen at you as you enjoy your couch and coffee. Part Two is skedded for theatres from October 22 – November 1 depending on COVID-19. TJFF will donate a portion of the ticket sales to grassroots organizations Mazon Canada and The Stop Community Food Centre, to those in need. For the complete Festival and Q&A schedule, tickets, and more information, visit www.tjff.com Here’s a look at the digital fest’ opening night film The End of Love from Keren Bar Rafael. It takes place entirely on Skype as a married couple, separated by visa issues try to make things work between Paris and Tel Aviv. Fun at first the novelty wears off as their separation is extended. Sound familiar? Judith Chemla stars.