By Anne Brodie
Rod Lurie’s The Outpost is finally available on VOD in Canada as of Tuesday. Based on Jake Tapper’s book of the same name, it’s a military thriller covering events of The Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan in 2009 when US soldiers were trapped in a geographically hazardous valley, easy prey for well-armed Taliban forces. The American lives lost, the constant state of high alert and diminishing fortunes are countered by the stalwart mindset of the soldiers and their leaders. They were trained to carry on. The Bravo Troop 3-61 CAV became one of the most decorated units of the 19-year conflict, but not without devastating losses. Lurie’s superior gift for storytelling coupled with his mastery of the medium makes this the best war movie in recent memory, intimate and expansive, grim realism and teamwork are inspiring. Top-notch performances, particularly Caleb Landry Jones as a young soldier out of his depth and Scott Eastwood and Orlando Bloom as leaders, bring it home in this heart-wrenching film. Lurie is a West Point graduate and soldier turned film critic turned filmmaker and has turned out quality political thrillers; this is his best yet. You can feel his passion.
Vàclav Marhoul’s searing and stunningly beautiful WWII film The Painted Bird shot on 35MM in glorious black and white details an orphan’s horrific journey through the Eastern European countryside towards the end of the war. The people he meets along the way ( Udo Kier, Harvey Keitel, Barry Pepper, Stellan Skarsgård) and their actions, verge on or wallow in depravity, driven mad by the war, death, poverty, starvation, isolation and guided by lethal superstition. Based on Jerzy Kosiński’s 1965 novel, The Boy loses his beloved grandmother and home and sets out looking for solace; he is beaten, raped, tied and pulled, humiliated, buried up to his head as ravens peck at him, an endless litany of sadism that is almost unspeakable. There is occasional compassion shown him but small comfort. And small comfort to us as we witness repeated scenes of animal abuse and murder specifically carried out for the film including a symbolic sequence in which a bird is taken from its flock, painted and returned to them only to be ripped apart because he no longer looks like them, an interesting statement on the nature of bias. The Boy changes from naif to hardened and no wonder. Strong caution for sensitive viewers. VOD
With joblessness as fallout from the COVID pandemic,Robert Jury’smeditative Rust Belt character study Working Man is especially poignant. The last factory in a small town has announced its closure, a devastating blow to the men and women who work there. Allery Parkes (Peter Gerety) has worked hard at the factory all his life and can’t sit at home; his sense of purpose and productivity won’t allow it. So, each day he packs a lunch, lets himself in and cleans the place. His wife (Talia Shire) and his co-workers and neighbours are concerned with his Idée fixe, but he won’t be stopped. A neighbor, Walter (Billy Brown) joins him and promises that together they will fulfill the remaining orders and maybe revive the place. Little by little, coworkers trickle in to work, filling orders, hoping to be paid, while owners plot to get rid of them gratis. This quiet, powerful and elegiac study of a man coping, not a remnant but a hero, casts an eye back to a time when people had jobs for lives. Long gone now. Gerety has few expressions but gets his point across in a gut-wrenching performance, experiencing economic suppression and ageism. VOD.
Many of us remember the late Kaye Ballard paired with Eve Arden in the hit Desilu TV series The Mothers-in-Law as neighbours and now relations who just don’t get along. Well, this was Ballard’s umpteenth career triumph, having worked vaudeville, comedy and burlesque circuits, chic Manhattan supper clubs, theatres across the US, Broadway, voice work, film and television from the twenties up to the 20-teens. Dan Wingate’s wonderfully entertaining documentary Kaye Ballard-The Show Goes On, featuring a who’s who of celebrity fans – is as joyful and upbeat as the lady herself. Ballard sang as well as Judy Garland, was funny as the day is long and played classical flute and violin. These folks add their three cents, Ann-Margret, Carol Burnett, Harold Prince, Carol Channing, Michael Feinstein, Rex Reed, Woody Allen (who wrote for her), Jerry Stiller, Liz Reid, Joy Behar, Carol Channing. She was close to Marlon Brando and Lenny Bruce, turned down Richard Burton, worked with Fanny Brice, Laurette Taylor, Gary Moore, Gower Champion, Gypsy Rose Lee, Sophie Tucker, Barbra Streisand, Doris Day, Andy Warhol (who designed costumes for her) Beatrice Lilly, Shelley Winters, Jerry Lewis, Bette Davis, Jack Parr, Mike Douglas, Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, Merv Griffin, Imogene Coca, Jodie Foster, Steve Sondheim and our own Paul Gross in Due South. Ballard couldn’t be pigeonholed because she could so it all. And she knew what she wanted to do at the age of five. What did you do today? Thank goodness there is archival footage of all this raw talent, if you’re a fan of the history of the arts, this is essential viewing, and guaranteed to put a spring in your step. VOD
I can really get behind Jenny Slate’s latest project as it sheds entirely new light on her talents, quite literally. The Sunlit Night allows Slate to ditch the snark and show her vulnerable side, her whimsy and naturalism, not to mention dramatic skill as Frances, a New Yorker who has the chance to study with an Arctic Norwegian artist. Slate produced the tale set in the far north where the sun always shines in summer, The two of them have nothing in common and she ponders going home, but home is a one-bedroom flat for four people with big personalities. Her situation up north begins to improve when she meets a fellow American (Alex Sharpe) who plans to give his father a Viking funeral, and a wacky Viking re-enactor and chef (Zach Galifianakis) and Gillian Anderson who shows up as a Russian businesswoman. But the best is the classically zaftig dairy case stacker she sees at the grocery store who poses for her and revives her artistic inspiration. This is a treat and a fun, fresh fish out of water story and a triumph for Slate. Thoughtful, wistful and a light touch. VOD
Laura Carmichael goes solidly against the image of Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith in a chilling series, the Australian thriller The Secrets She Keeps. She’s Aggie, a pregnant grocery store worker down on her luck and under growing mental stress. She’s unhealthily fixated on a pregnant social media influencer, played by The Crown’s Jessica De Gouw and stalks her. Meghan’s wealthy, married to an ambitious TV broadcaster, has two kids, and seems to have it all. She does not want the third child, and she’s depressed, but presents an aspirational life, and self to her fans. The pregnancy’s going over well, but there’s a hole in her heart. Aggie plots to bump into her; they bond over their pregnancies which are strangely similar and become friendly. Aggie’s risk taking escalates and soon she’s hiding in the bushes outside Meghan house watching the family. She sees that Meghan and her husband are fighting, both are distracted, and the reasons soon become clear. Aggie experiences a devastating medical problem and the chance of exposure, so she ramps up her efforts to get what she wants. With friends like these who needs enemies!?
Fatal Affair on Netflix revives the 80 and 90s stalker trope but without much success. Nia Long is a married mother and attorney who lives to regret a poor decision made late at night in a club bathroom. She almost has sex with a co-worker (Omar Epps) she’d known at college but ends it, and heads to her beachside home in a gated community where she and the family feel safe. They aren’t. Her co-worker won’t take no for an answer and determines he’ll have her one way or another. He goes to a court-mandated psychiatrist appointment and we learn of his past criminal behaviours; he’s trouble and we are aware. He stalks her electronically, then physically, her best friend is murdered and then comes the dawn. Lots of Sturm und Drang, plot mistakes and woe. Thirty years later there is nothing new added to the stalker genre, it’s stale and uninteresting unless you enjoy yelling out what’s about to happen. Nothing to see here folks, but I really like Nia Long who elevates it somewhat.
Agatha Christie Radio Play: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd now on BritBox is the latest iteration of the service’s vast collection of Christie properties. Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot retires to the country to grow vegetable marrows but instead grows aware of a plot to sow evil and murder. Orson Welles adapted the novel as a one-hour radio play for the November 12, 1939 episode of The Campbell Playhouse on CBS Radio and played both Dr. Sheppard and Hercule Poirot. It was adapted by Herman J. Mankiewicz and directed by Welles and features the wonderful character actor Edna May Oliver. The show features the great story and characters, and sound effects, crisp radio acting, and it works today, of course, because Agatha Christie wrote it, plus you get to use your imagination for the visuals.
Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Michelle Derosier’s Angelique’s Isle, based on the story of Angelique Mott is a harrowing study of spirit, morality and resilience. It’s 1845 near Sault Ste Marie; a young Anishinaabe woman (Julia Jones) marries a French-Canadian voyageur. They go against her grandmother’s (Tantoo Cardinal) instincts to join Detroit businessmen on a search for copper on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale. They are left there for two weeks to guard a rock loaded with the mineral, but autumn sets in and then winter and they don’t come. No food, no animals, no fishing hooks; isolation starvation and wicked weather take their toll, her husband apologises for ignoring her entreaties not to take the job, but it is too late. Angelique, a Christian, educated at a residential school, receives spirit messages from her grandmother. The casual, knowing cruelty of the businessmen is at the heart of the story, preying on the naivete of the innocent. The beauty of the Thunder Bay locations takes on a chilling evil as the men’s treachery carries out its will. On VOD.
The Lavazza Drive-In Film Festival is on! July 20 to 31 in Toronto with award-winning films and critic favourites! CHIN Radio/TV hosts an all-new
initiative this summer at Ontario Place – the Lavazza Drive-In Film Festival.
The festival will feature a line-up of the latest international films representing countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Toronto Premiere of The Cuban, starring Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr., and the Canadian Premiere of Italian drama, If Only/Magari. The festival will partner with the Italian Embassy, and a portion of ticket sales will be donated to the Canadian Red Cross. Plus, there’s contactless delivery of snacks to vehicles.