By Anne Brodie
One Night in Miami imagines a February night in 1964, in a motel room as Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Malcolm X (!) gather to celebrate Clay’s win over Sonny Liston, making him the heavyweight champion of the world. Regina King directs this incredible story starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson with Beau Bridges, and Lance Reddick. King’s elegant work builds to an emotional crescendo you won’t forget. Sept 13 at TIFF.
TIFF’s 76 DAYS, one of the hardest films I’ve seen, from New York filmmaker Hao Wu and two China-based journalists Weixi Chen and Anonymous takes us inside a Wuhan China hospital from lockdown January 23rd until it was lifted April 28th. Frontline workers deal with the incredible blow COVID-19 delivered to this city of 11M. Hospital beds are full while the sick clamour to get in, elderly are locked in their wards, staff deals with the emotional and physical strains of caring for the deathly ill patients, a woman gives birth to a baby she is unable to see for weeks. The filmmakers had deep access to patient rooms, operating tables, hallways and streets, the horrors of emotion and exhaustion, distraught relatives and the sad job of delivering personal effects to the family of those who passed. For God’s sake people, wear your masks. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Prediction: Awards season will honour Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan and their fact-based drama Ammonite, a stark and powerful look at love between women in 1840’s England. Winslet pays Mary Anning, a renowned “fossil hunter” who introduced radical new theories of the evolution of man from samples collected on the shores of Lyme Regis, on England’s southern coast. She lived with her mother in extreme poverty selling sea mementoes as her reputation for her fossil work grew. A wealthy couple appear at the store, long story short, he abandons his wife and leaves her in Mary’s care. They begin a passionate affair that unlocks them both from their personal afflictions. Written and directed by Francis Lee. At TIFF now.
The gut-wrenching Canadian documentary The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel looks at the relentless, destructive movement of corporations into government and civic/social and cultural policy. Corporations have shaped and manipulated national policy for two centuries, it’s nothing new, but as they continue to deplete the world of its resources, abuse labour, break laws and pollute the environment while framing themselves as forward-thinking beneficent forces. A clever descriptor, a ten-point checklist to identify psychopathy shows corporations have the power to create chaos by their very existence and cover it under a pseudo- philanthrocapitalism; and deny all. Man-made disasters and promises to protect and serve immediately broken are standard. Look who is the US President. Excellent, riveting, horrific stuff that also offers ways to combat and find true democracy and freedom again. Directed by Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott and Charles Officer narrates. Sept 13 at TIFF.
Writer-director Charles Officer’s gripping new film Akilla’s Escape finds a young Black boy caught in the crossfire of gang violence in his urban housing complex. His violent, abusive gangster father’s noxious influence leads him down the gang path but it’s not the life he wants for himself. Officer plays with time and character in remarkable ways as we see the boy, the man, the forces in his life and spirit as he tries to survive a war that’s gone on too long and at too high a price.
Poetic, gritty, provocative and important. Stars Saul Williams, Thamela Mpulmwana, Donisha Prendergast, and featuring Colm Feore and rapper Vic Mensa. Part of TIFF’s Planet Africa 25.
TIFF Industry Selects programme screened director Nicole Riegel’s feature debut, the tough and touching Holler. An Appalachian high schooler played with quiet intensity by Jessica Barden, dreams of going to university. But her school counselor tells her people like her don’t go to university and she might as well get a local job. She refuses to accept his glib judgement, and finds work in a scrap metal yard, hoping to finance her dream on her own. The film’s female point of view, the story, the director, and young star is based on real events, and Riegel’s own life and voice. Have a look at this featurette.
Tommy Moore’s Wolfwalkers, an Apple Original Movie follows a young hunter named Robyn, traveling to Ireland with her father to wipe out the wolf population, considered in her superstitious time, to be demonic harbingers of bad luck and death. She meets a wild native girl named Mebh who teaches her about the natural world and in time, Robyn becomes the thing she set out to kill. At TIFF on Saturday and in theatres and Apple TV+ late 2020.
Broken Hearts Gallery Executive Producer Selena Gomez’s sweet, witty and funny young adult film about an art gallery assistant (Geraldine Viswanathan) who collects items from every relationship she’s had and lost is a treat. One night, after a messy breakup, she gets into a car, thinking it’s her Lyft. The driver (Dacre Montgomery) says it’s not a car service and please get out and thus begins a beautiful friendship. She tells him her tale of woe and together they create a pop-up display of lost love trinkets. Shot in Toronto. In theatres.
I Am Woman dramatizes the struggles Helen Reddy survived when she moved from Australia to New York to launch a singing career with her daughter and a few bucks? Me either. The woman had courage; she ate endless peanut butter sandwiches, lived in a dingy room with her little girl without a US visa, and somehow managed to be heard, with that amazing voice of hers, by the right people, despite setbacks. Reddy met her future husband, promoter Jeff Wald who guided her career and provided plenty of destructive drama when he fell under the influence of cocaine. Reddy’s Australian friend legendary rock journalist Lillian Roxon is a success in New York and takes her under her wing. Reddy’s career is off and running. Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays Reddy and performs her songs including the titular feminist call to action I Am Woman. Cobham-Hervey sings well but lacks the fire I remember. Directed by Unjoo Moon.
HBO Max’ Raised By Wolves, Ridley Scott’s ambitious sci-fi series imagines a future when the earth is gone and androids care for (read: rule …) human beings on new and virgin planets. Amanda Collin and Abubakar Saliman play an android couple on a new planet seeking a new life., He impregnates her with a capsule, builds a home from starved trees as their six diverse ‘hatchlings” grow into a form of life, then die, to be fed to remaining “babies”. Campion survives and is entrenched in their teachings of science, not faith, and in the midst of constant existential threats. He is compelled to pray to a being, as a crew of humans Niamh Algar and Travis Fimmel to create a religious community but there is no peace in this divided planet. Its a complex story told with incredible flair and imagination commenting on the increasing dominance of artificial intelligence over human life. Can’t say its cheery, but the series is worth your while.
A real British murder mystery treat in McDonald & Dodds Season 1 on BritBox, a twist on the chalk and cheese detectives motif, as a new female boss DCI Laura McDonald (Tala Gouveia) from London takes on a new assignment in remote Bath. She’s been told to encourage her partner DS Dodds (Jason Watkins, usually the bad guy) a nerdy and retiring longtime copper to retire. He still uses a notebook! Instead, she discovers the brilliant mind that lies behind the big glasses and timid manner. They partner on investigating a James Dyson-like English inventor who appears to be Teflon when two murders occur in his patch. With his brain and her will, they have a distinct advantage that befuddles their tech-centric bosses. Dodds finds the only CCTV camera that may put the influential inventor with all his political, police, and business alliances, behind bars. And it’s only because Dodds likes falcons! The inventor/suspect has set his children up to fight for his affection and fortune which leads them to some desperate decision making. This is so much fun, and so smart, you’ll be hooked.
Graham Yost and Miranda de Pencier’s inspiring fact-based drama The Grizzlies is based on a short story about the power of sport to change lives. The suicide rate for young people in the Nunavut town of Kugluktuk was the highest in North America. A teacher (Ben Schnetzer) from the south is posted but he’s not trusted, and he doesn’t know local ways. He does know that the children need focus, so he forms a lacrosse team. Some Inuit families are against it as a threat to traditional ways and the school principal (Tantoo Cardinal) has her own misgivings, but eventually its on – and what a change. The students are lifted out of a hopeless communal rut through teamwork and the shared goal of winning the championship. Local actors Paul Nutarariaq, Emerald MacDonald, and Anna Lambe Spring lead the cast, with Twilight’s Booboo Stewart and comedian Will Sasso. Six hundred local actors auditioned for the film and a third of the crew is Inuit. Each player’s personal story and breakthroughs are explored with sensitivity and empathy and their hard-won triumphs are sweet. But this is no sentimental journey – it’s tough and real and fired by that thing we all have inside – hope. Digital and VOD on 9/15