by Anne Brodie
We celebrate International Women’s Day with Hillary a fascinating documentary on one of the most influential women of modern times, Hillary Clinton. Hulu’s docuseries by Nanette Burstein captures the then-presidential candidate in 2016 leading up to, during and after she won but lost the presidency. It feels like an action thriller, the international intrigue in Russian interference, internecine wars with the current President and his election staff, the right-wing media and foreign bots. Clinton says she has been called “unknowable” and “inauthentic” and it drives her crazy. She feels it’s all out there to be seen, her earliest political interests and campaigns, as a college Republican, then a Democratic campaigner, feminist, children’s rights advocate, First Lady, Secretary of State, Presidential candidate and force of nature. She says people judge her because she stayed in her marriage, or because they thought she was too ambitious. But she was voted Most Admired Woman in America ten years in a row. Despite the emails, Anthony Weiner, James Comey, Benghazi, Putin, who grudgingly respects her, constant character assassination, and the jealous Trump, she endures. A lesson to us all. Vindication is real. The silver lining – six women came forward as presidential candidates.
This is the film Toronto’s been waiting for – the nutty saga of Rob Ford! The slim and elegant Damien Lewis dons la maquillage to play for the portly, sloppy stumblebum who once sat in the Mayor’s office. Mena Massoud plays his exec assistant but in fact is his proxy, brain and steel wall. Ricky Tollman’s Run This Town focuses on a slim window of time in 2013 when an aspiring journalist (Ben Platt) is given the chance of a lifetime, to write a story that Matters. He’s approached by a stranger with footage of Ford smoking drugs with known dealers but he’s green and his editors want nothing to do with him or his story. (I’ve never worked with editors like these jackals in my decades in various newsrooms and writing dens. ) Meanwhile, Ford’s City Hall staffers are aghast at his behaviour; he’s off the rails, drunk, abusive and predatory. The mystery man’s demanding a huge sum for the video and soon the papers competing with two majors to grab it. The late Rob Ford is portrayed as a ravenous monster of a man, I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it’s pure soap, even as gritty as it gets. Nina Dobrev, Jennifer Ehle and Scott Speedman co-star. Ford’s big full-frontal reveal is 35 minutes in.
Sorry We Missed You directed by hero filmmaker Ken Loach, starring Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone and Katie Proctor, looks at the devastation caused by the growing gig economy, inspired by the death on the job of courier Don Lane in 2018. Ricky, Abby and their two children live in Newcastle. Both parents work in the “gig” economy, he has a franchise driving for an Amazon type company, she is a PSW who visits vulnerable clients in their homes every day. The fine print of his contract states that if he misses a shift, he will be fined and sanctioned. If he’s late his route will be given to someone else. They work 14-hour days, six days a week and are rarely at home with their kids. The son lands in jail and father comes to fetch him, missing a shift. He’s fined. Dog attacks him and he goes to the hospital and he’s fined. One day he’s beaten and robbed on the job. He’s in rough shape but risks more fines and doesn’t go to the hospital. This hideous circle of bad luck threatens the family with unpayable debt. Loach’s socially conscious films that focus on the British working class feel like they’re unfolding in front of us, as action and dialogue are often improvised. He is one of the great British directors working today, who balances masterful filmmaking with powerful political and social commentary. Gig economy be damned.
Lies aren’t the only things exposed in Lie Exposed. It concerns a group of friends and their relationships, a tintype artist putting together a series of photographs of women’s private parts, the women who pose for him including a flighty, middle-aged alcoholic actor recently diagnosed with cancer who is in a fragile state. Leslie Hope, who also produced the film, is that woman. Bruce Greenwood, her husband sees that she’s struggling. Megan Follows and Kris Holden Reid, Kristin Lehman and David Hewlett, Grace Lynn Kung and Benjamin Ayres, and Paula Rivera and Tony Nappo fill out the cast in what I can best describe as a sexy soap opera with the addition of ponderous stream of consciousness. A bit too quasi- sophisticated and indulgent for my taste. The artist played by Jeff Korber wrote the play Pornography on which the film is based.
Marie-Josee Croze, currently starring in Albert Shin’s Disappearance at Clifton Hill takes on international cyber espionage in a cool new series. Super Channel Fuse Original series Mirage, a six-part thriller set in Abu Dhabi concerning a worldwide network of competitors racing towards nuclear supremacy. The futuristic city is full of spies, mercenaries and corporate execs who will do anything to win the race. Its fifteen years after a tsunami swept Claire’s husband Gabriel away, but one night she sees his reflection in a mirror and gives chase. She’s stunned; her new husband and her son with her first husband notice she’s changed, and indeed, she goes on a dangerous mission to find him. The recurring theme of people vanishing adds edge, as business deals go sour, plus kidnappings, murders and bodies buried at sea. Spies, bugs, CCTV are everywhere, but Claire has an ally in her trusty Syrian driver. “Thorium” is the Holy Grail of nuclear advancement and it has Abu Dhabi in a spin; it’s a safer, more abundant fuel for reactors. A Russian oil consortium, a shadowy woman from Toronto, and an international cast create a fascinating, fast-paced, addictive cloak and dagger face off.
The new Finnish comedy series Idiomatic offers gently biting satire of romance, in-laws, and class jumping, a witty treat to be savoured over ten episodes. Aino (Anna Paavilainen) and Micke (Elmer Bäck) are a thoroughly modern couple in their 30’s, leftists, environmentalists, and globalists. Seems his startup partner “redirected” his investment, forcing him into bankruptcy and into the spare room of her traditional parents’ home. His discomfort is double-edged. They have zero money but now live in a wealthy enclave, a sleek condo they soon must share with her lazy brother. He can feel people snickering at him; when he finds and confronts his ex-partner, he crumbles and runs off. Finn humour is unique – quite black at times and whipsmart. Your new streaming crush, on Sundance Now.
Mark Wahlberg revives Robert Urich’s TV detective in Spenser: Confidential now on Netflix. Wahlberg who also produces gets to shoot in his hometown of Boston and set the action in Southie where he grew up. He’s an ex-cop in prison for beating his former commanding officer. He’s warned to get out of Boston on his release because corrupt cops are out to get him. Home’s changed too; his father (Alan Arkin) has taken in a boarder and his beloved tiny dog Pearl prefers the boarder. But not to get too cute, a cop has died under mysterious circumstances after looking into the Commander’s activities. Spenser commits to clearing the officer’s name. Lots of fisticuffs – Wahlberg’s a fighting machine – then down the rabbit hole of drugs, payoffs, ingrained corruption and murder. Wahlberg’s easy charm and goofy sense of fun permeate the series, particularly in his relationship with his mouthy gal pal (Iliza Shlesinger) and the dogs he attracts. Peter Berg directs and Bokeem Woodbine, Post Malone and the mighty Winston Duke co-star.
The long-awaited reboot of Steven Spielberg’s original 1985 anthology series Amazing Stories is up and running on Apple TV Plus. Its superpower is the diversity and strength of its writers and directors. Chris Long’s The Cellar episode stars Dylan O’Brien and Victoria Pedretti as lovers separated by 100 years, magically united by the weather. O’Brien’s character is a building contractor, he and his brother are restoring a century home when they find a barometer. O’ Brien is hurled back to 1919 when a superstorm sparks an antique barometer. He’s in the same house, as it was, full of light and colour and meets a woman who’s face he’d seen in a photo found in the 2019 house. They fall in love but she’s about to be married to a wealthy, controlling man. It’s gorgeously shot, heavy on the nostalgia in the 1919 segments, and just when it starts to look like a conventional romance, it becomes something else.
Alex Garland, the man behind the simmering sci f gem Ex Machina debuts his latest oeuvre, a sci-fi miniseries called Devs on FX and FX on Hulu. Computer engineer Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) takes a hard look at Amaya, a mysterious quantum computing company headed by a bearded and enigmatic Nick Offerman. Lily’s boyfriend is dead, and she believes the company did it. Amaya is the ultimate connected state of the art workplace, every room and passage is a light and sound show, a living movie, a means of manipulating the emotions and psyches of the employees, to hypnotise them, make them suggestible. Offerman’s boss offers up cultish platitudes, to wit – “I can’t take what you never had from you”, “Your participating life is an illusion”, “Life is something we can unfold”. It’s interesting but wordy and perhaps better suited to film than TV considering the verbiage and slow pace.
Toronto’s Goethe-Institut rips the lid off political and cultural doublespeak in its new series The End of Truth, taking place at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Three “essential espionage films”, with three expert guest speakers spans 100 years of German filmmaking, unmasking propaganda. On Tuesday, March 10, 6:30 pm Fritz Lang’s silent epic Spies, newly restored and gloriously crisp gives us an early glimpse of the spy genre’s mainstays – state of the art technology, sexual connections, double agents and surprising webs of clandestine and international activity. Visually the film suggests future fascism and lays out a roadmap for the spy in popular culture. Its intense, thrilling, sexy, nerve-wracking and stunning to watch, with its expressionist touches. Ron Deibert, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy will introduce the film with reference to the interplay of communication technologies, human rights, and cybersecurity.
Thursday, March 12, the restored version of János Veiczi’ 1963 spy thriller For Eyes Only. It concerns real-life CIA infiltrator Horst Hesse, East Germany’s answer to the first James Bond installment. It will be shown with a 1956 East German newsreel on Hesse and a conversation with Professor Gabriele Müller on East German film and memory culture.
Andon Tuesday, March 17 Philipp Leinemann’s Blame Game, makes its North American Premiere the events leading up to following a US drone strike on a Middle Eastern terrorist cell. The event reveals corporate interests and those who may capitalize on the attack. Critic and author Adam Nayman will introduce the film.
And on DVD on VOD, the Oscar-winning 1917, the critically acclaimed action spectacle made to look like one continuous shot on the fields of battle. It follows two young men on a mission and the choice to put us there next to them in real-time is exquisitely intimate. Sam Mendes brings to vivid life an event from his own family history that beggars belief. Two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are sent on a hazardous mission to cross No Man’s Land, the devastated swath of death and danger separating British soldiers from German enemies in order to find a British outfit deep inside. They must tell them to stop the battle plan immediately because the Germans have laid a trap. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqNYrYUiMfg The drama is often unbearable – in a good way – as they face attack, lack of water and food, fear, bewilderment and shock. The “single” shot choice brings the messages personal and global home viscerally, you feel you’re running alongside the boys, and Mendes’ cinematic experiment has everything to do with that. This is a must-see, an education and topflight entertainment. Also stars Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. Available on 4K Ultra HD combo pack, which includes 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray TM, & Digital Code.