By Anne Brodie
Clark Johnson’s powerful David and Goliath drama Percy tells the true story of Percy Schmeiser (Christopher Walken) a Canadian organic canola farmer who stood up to Monsanto, the American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation and won. The company had taken unfair advantage of farmers for decades, but then they trespassed on Schmeiser’s property and took crop samples and sued him because they found traces of Monsanto’s genetic code, they were in for a surprise. Schmeiser’s multi-generational farm had always used its own seeds propagating the healthiest plants every year. Monsanto applied pressure but he didn’t budge, and he discovered he has support from farmers from around the world who’d been ruined by the company. It’s no spoiler to say he won, leading the way for Monsanto paying out millions in restitution to its victims. Johnson’s gently provocative fact-based story feels like a fable celebrating the little guy triumphant. His seamless, mature direction and the Prairie landscapes are joys. Also stars Roberta Maxwell, Adam Beach, Christina Ricci, Zach Braff, Martin Donovan, Peter Stebbings and Luke Kirby. In theatres.
Disney + reimagines Tom Wolfe’s Mercury mission story The Right Stuff in a new series on now. It’s the late 50s, the height of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. The fledgling American space agency NASA joins the race against Russia which is making huge strides in space exploration. Military’s test pilots are whittled down to seven men who’ve passed extreme health, mental fitness and tech tests to make the first trip. At its heart the series is a glossy soap opera about the team’s extreme competition, chauvinism, machismo and braggadocio, their wives’ patience, forbearance and pride, aspects of life in a pre-feminist, white patriarchal world. The eight-parter covers the mission and its historic, political and economic impact, with special focus on John Glenn (the “showboat”), Alan Shepard and Captain Gordon Cooper. Stars Patrick J. Adams, Jake McDorman, Colin O’Donoghue, Michael Trotter, Aaron Staton, Micah Stock and James Lafferty.
You might think Robert DeNiro goes downmarket to make a family comedy about a grandfather and his grandson fighting tooth and nail over a bedroom. He thumbs his nose at his serious acting legacy, getting deep into the comic vibe and physical work. The War with Grandpa is what happens when a widower’s family deems him unable to live alone because he stole a few groceries. His daughter (Uma Thurman) insists he move into her home which means bumping the son (Oakes Fegley) up to the loathed attic. He declares war and pulls some fast ones, not realising grandpa can call on his buddies (Christopher Walken and Cheech Marin) for backup. It’s no joke, stuff gets ugly and no one backs down. Meanwhile, grandpa takes a shine to the local cashier (Jane Seymour). In what universe is Jane Seymour a cashier? And that my friends, is just one of the ways this film is radical.
Same can be said for the seasonal comedy Hubie Hallowe’en on Netflix. Adam Sandler and Kevin James are back together in a comedy. Cue groans. But wait. Sandler is Hubie, a sweet guy the entire town of Salem, Mass bullies as he carries out his duties as Monitor, seeing to the safety of the citizens. He claims to have a Canadian gal pal from the Canada Dry Region, Ontarionto. But he’s a virgin. Hallowe’en approaches and he’s put through all the horrors adolescents can dream up, attacking him with eggs and baseballs on the street, erasers in school, pulling mean pranks, trying to make him cry uncle. He never does, he never fights back. His optimistic spirit keeps him going with support from his mother (June Squibb). So, here’s the cast – grown-ups Julie Bowen, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, Rob Schneider, Maya Rudolph, George Wallace, Shaquille O’Neal, Ben Stiller, Kenan Thompson, and trust me, they’re enjoying themselves. Subversive adult humour and juvenile japes and they’re laying it on thick because they can.
Jim Cummings wrote, directs and stars in The Wolf of Snow Hollow, a zany and original take on an ancient werewolf movie genre. An isolated mountain community run by father and son Sheriff Marshall and Officer Marshall (the late Robert Forster and Cummings) faces a series of gruesome murders. The victims are mostly women and we see them see their unknown assailant with a look in their eyes the reads they know their fate. Is it a wolf, a man? Absurdist humour is in play. Marshall the younger tells his daughter to get the pepper spray he bought her for Communion, tells an officer who leaked info to the press to go get a job at WikiLeaks. Research tells him that men angry at women have disguised themselves as wolves and killed women, and under full moons, so they can see what they’re doing. Marshall asks his female deputy if she thinks women have had to deal with this s**t since the Middle Ages.
Plenty of gripping undercurrents run through this village, washing up bon mots aplenty. Fancy fun cinematography as the landscapes suddenly turn upside down, sky below, mountains above, noting villagers’ lives ever altered. Highly entertaining. Also stars Riki Lindhome, Chloe East and Jimmy Tatro.
Sundance Now has Des, ITV’s highest rated drama series in 14 years, starring David Tennant as Dennis “Des” Nilsen one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers. It’s danged scary. From 1978 to 1983, NIlsen picked up fifteen young homeless or vulnerable men (including Canadian student tourist Kenneth Ockendon the only victim reported as missing) took them to his flat and murdered them. What makes the case so astonishing is the reason he gave for his actions and the casual, flippant honesty with which he confessed all. Nilsen’s coolly unemotional detachment contrasts with the depravity of his acts, like keeping bodies in his home for months and burning them in the backyard in full sight of his neighbours. The portrayal of this man is a delicate balance of casual self-satisfaction and ironic distance and Tennant is unnerving. It’s a grisly series that peels another layer to expose yet another aspect of human evil. You resist but it’s hard to look away. Co-stars Daniel Mays and Jason Watkins. Premieres October 15.
Now for something a little lighter from BritBox. The comic private investigators series Shakespeare & Hathaway begins its third season Tuesday. Set in Stratford-Upon-Avon it follows the crime-fighting adventures of Luella Shakespeare (Jo Joyner) and Frank Hathaway (Mark Benton) as they lift the veil on wrongdoers in their Tudor patch. There’s Mrs. Bolingbroke a real estate developer, DI Marlowe, Grace Regan, Eddie Monmouth, etc. Lighthearted stories about herbalists and allotments, gigolos and wealthy widows, an ageing rocker bedevilled by a Satanic presence, and that time Hathaway disarmed a crook with laughing gas. Good fun last season, when little Tim was dognapped for his 315M pound inheritance. A nice antidote to Dennis Nilsen and the Shakespeare hollers are marvellous. Murder, yes, but sunny, bright and entertaining.
Rahda Blank’s Netflix film The Forty-Year-Old Version is a highly personal and entertaining take on Judd Apatow’s 2005 comedy from the POV of a woman hitting that birthday and pondering her future. Multimedia writer and performer Blank plays a version of herself, unable to get her play produced and taking on temporary work teaching acting and writing to teenagers; they are her Greek chorus as she begins to move in a new direction. She’s going to express her truths as a rapper! As RadhaMASPrime she finds new strength and a young producer who believes in her. Blank’s humour is fast and deep, the memorable one-liners, sometimes just tossed out are genius. And her situational, observational mindset is fresh and welcome.
The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix “inspired by the work of Henry James” concerns an American au pair who takes a position at a stately home in the English countryside. She’s warned that the children Flora and Myles are difficult, and there’s more, the previous nannies have died. The boy leers art her and the girl makes dolls from grass she believes have powers. Myles is sent to a religious school, kills a pigeon and says he wishes he could do worse, The priest asks him to feel free to speak with him about anything, but he’s ultimately cast out, after throwing himself out of a tree and beating a kid with his arm in a sling. He had reasons; Flora communicated that she wants him back home. Flora’s dark nature surfaces repeatedly, what’s an au pair to do? Lighter than a souffle but atmospheric and starring Victoria Pedretti, T’Nia Miller, Henry Thomas and as the troublesome tots, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth and Amelie Bea Smith.
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw from writer-director Thomas Robert Lee looks at a radical conservative Protestant farming village that looks straight out of 1650, except for the plane that flies overhead. It is set in modern times, but they are never referred to as the people carry on the old ways. Life is hardscrabble, dependent on farming and animal husbandry, and no one leaves. A woman, the community’s only successful businessperson lives in isolation with the daughter she’d had out of wedlock and kept secret for fear of banishment. Audrey is grown now and an occultist like her mother. A plague is attacking the village livestock and crops but the Earnshaws are not affected, creating suspicion, jealousy, and violence. Terrible things come to pass, in this interesting, and rather florid tale, brightened by a gorgeous harvest palette. in theatres now and available on VOD + Digital Oct. 20
Planet in Focus runs October 14 to 18 offering ecology-minded documentaries that cast a light on environmental deterioration and encourage action. The festival honours eco Hero Marine biologist and policy advocate Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Environmental Journalist Aliya Jasmine Sovani, and food sovereignty advocate Cheyenne Sundance. Screenings will be supported by Q and As. Planet in Focus is a charitable organization whose mission is to use film as a catalyst for change by raising awareness of critical environmental issues through a variety of media. Go to www.planetinfocus.org
The 49th annual Festival Du Cinema is also underway online, with 200 films including fifty features. The festival is divided into programme sections Temps Ø with its selection of avant-garde and experimental films, Les nouveaux alchimistes from artists from varied backgrounds, and their bold, original works. The Panorama international section looks at films from around the world investigating “the current state of affairs”. Special presentations focus on two films, Philippe Falardeau’s My Salinger Year with Sigourney Weaver, Margaret Qualley, Douglas Booth, Colm Feore and Théodore Pellerin and Bruce LaBruce’ comedy-drama Saint-Narcisse concerning identical male twins separated at birth who later fall in love. And finally, Films for Peace a programme of short films promoting Indigenous stories and narrative sovereignty through film.