Annihilation is a sci-fi adventure celebrating female strength like writer director Alex Garland’s last ground-breaking thriller Ex Machina. Scientist Natalie Portman’s biologist husband played by Oscar Isaac goes missing on a top-secret government mission to an unidentified environmental hotspot. He is reported dead, along with his military and science crew, the latest in a string of male crews to disappear there. Nevertheless, he appears at their home, distracted, frightened and apparently dying, with no memory. Lena is asked to head an all-female crew to solve the mystery in the jungle; they are at the top of their professions, a biologist, a paramedic, anthropologist, and physicist under the direction of a psychologist. They arrive and adjust, and breach The Shimmer that protects the hotspot, to find the laws of nature are non-existent. Flower species merge and create monstrous hybrids. The idea of mutated flowers gaining strength and mass enough to overcome life is interesting. They come across the men’s abandoned encampment and video and photo clues to the environmental disaster and the danger they face. Garlands style is powerfully hallucinogenic; nothing is “normal”. It is a chilling, fascinating, seductive world that challenges the women every second, but they persist. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson co-star. Based Jeff VanderMeer’s bestselling Southern Reach Trilogy.
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The chilling Russian drama Loveless from Andrey Zvyagintsev shockingly deconstructs the idea of familial love. Twelve-year-old angel faced Alyosha lives in his parents’ upscale apartment in Moscow. He is barely tolerated, hardly noticed. They encourage his lone walks in the woods and ignore him when he is around preferring to argue or glue themselves to their phones. Each parent is committed to torturing the other as they enter the final stages of what must have been a brutal break. Both have lovers and there is no space in their heads for the boy. They eventually notice he is not around and hasn’t been for two days. The search begins, in a half-hearted way. This is a film about not only neglect and selfishness but also hatred. The tension is hard and tight and the casual cruelty of Alyosha’s mother is breathtaking. Loveless stars Matvey Novikov, Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin.
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Ingrid Veninger’s lovely ode to adolescence, Porcupine Lake is a happily tech free tale of a naïve and nervous teen from Toronto going up north for the summer. Her mother is embarking on a trial reunion with her estranged husband who owns a diner in Port Severn, ON. Bea is about to embark on a personal journey into growth. She is scared that her parents will divorce and she’s lonely but she meets a local girl called Kate. Kate’s family is troubled too so the unhappy girls find friendship solidarity and trust, a tight bond. They explore new things together, including an occasional innocent kiss. Bea’s anxiety often results in fainting and she is “easily offended” so there is much to overcome in Kate’s family especially her concussed brother who is violent and deluded. Kate asks Bea to take her back to Toronto, but it seems unlikely, as both families have banned them from being together. Charlotte Salisbury and Lucinda Armstrong Hall deliver incredibly nuanced, believable and passionate performances that bring memories of youth flooding back, the memories of how wonderful and horrible the world is and how lucky we are to find kindred spirits. Veninger’s film celebrates the possibility of beauty and space and the freedom of summers on Georgian Bay and that joy we find in one another, warts and all. A jewel.
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Its set in Baltimore but shots of Sugar Beach, the George Street Diner and other familiar Toronto spots give it away. Every Day based on the young adult novel David Leviathan is and impressive sci-fi romance with heft and weight, that poses serious questions about who and what we are, where we fit in life and unknown possibilities we enjoy. A highschooler wakes up, checks his mirror to see what he looks like, surveys his bedroom and sets his alarm for late night. At school, he connects with his girlfriend Rhiannon. The next morning, a different person wakes up, checks to see what he looks like, surveys his room etc… He or she, depending on who wakes up, meets Rhiannon at school. She loves A, whose spirit moves to a new body every day. She accepts the situation and keeps it secret but major complications challenge them. The philosophical implications of A’s existence are significant. What would it be like to be in her shoes or in A’s, is A human, where does he/ she fit into the universe, is there an end? Director Michael Sucsy ’s terrific emotional adventure deftly elevates the YA experience.
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Nic Cage revives his classic angry dance and kooky krazy in the black comedy/horror Mom and Dad. Once you recover from the opening sequence its straight to the quiet desperation of the burbs. Cage and Selma Blair live in the sunshine filled cookie cutter house, every morning he goes to a job he can’t stand, while she drives family where they’re going and picks up the pieces. The teen daughter is rude and disrespectful and the younger son is adorably sweet. The kids are bugging dad; one throws a ball at his head, as he dreams of the old days when he was a dude with a speedy car and a fast girl. One irritation after another and ma and pa can barely contain their growing anger. Something weird’s going on outside, suburban parents are attacking their children, mothers are giving birth and crushing their babies, mass hysteria has come a calling and the news isn’t good. Parents can’t stop themselves from trying to kill their children, no reason given for this plague, no context, it just is. Well, three weeks earlier there was a scene in the family basement when Cage raged like a lunatic, chopping the billiard board to pieces and singing The Hokey Pokey. All the adults have succumbed to the blood thirst. Then THEIR parents come to get them. The children are suddenly rational adults, constructing special weapons and strategies to stay alive. It is blackly funny but the release comes at an awkward moment in time.
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More suffering children in the Irish Victorian horror thriller The Lodgers from Brian O’Malley. A brother and sister live in a rotting and haunted stately home with no light and little food. Their motto: “Be in bed by midnight, let no one through the door, never leave anyone alone” is the result of nocturnal disturbances. The family has owned the property for 200 years and a long history of drownings in the weedy pond seems to have poisoned the place. Their lawyer comes with news that they have no more money and must sell the house. They refuse, because they “belong to the house”. A village boy comes by and the girl asks him in desperation to take them away, but he refuses saying the world outside the gates it worse than anything inside. Perpetual darkness underlines the psychological, sexual and spiritual blackness that is their existence. Water begins seeping in, bringing new horrors. Stars Charlotte Vega, Bill Milner, Eugene Simon and David Bradley.
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The loving, poignant and sometimes difficult documentary Quest now playing at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is a joy to watch. Director Jonathan Olshefski shot over ten years; it follows an African American family in Philadelphia from the beginning of Obama’s presidency to the presidential campaign of 2016. Christopher “Quest” Rainey and his wife Christine’a, “Ma Quest”, own a basement-recording studio called Everquest. But it’s more than a place to make music. It is a longtime safe haven for local children where they can sing, record, express their feelings about their lives, politics, social issues, and personal stories. Crises arise but they do not crush the Raineys or their charges, and good times are celebrated, as when Obama wins a second term and a young girl becomes a hoops star. It is natural, lifelike and embracing; you feel you are with them and engaged in their wellbeing and futures.
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The eight part series McMafia is set to premiere Monday on AMC, starring James Norton of Grantchester fame. He is Alex godson, the English born and bred son of Russian exiles. He hopes tp escape the clutches of his gangster family, but it does not prove to be easy. The more he attempts to extricate himself from guns, drugs, money and intimidation, the more he sinks into it. He built his own business to ensure separation but he is forced into the cobweb of evil his family represents and must navigate it without experience or the taste for it. He doesn’t know the rules, but crises teach him fast. His uncle is murdered, and as much as he was in the game, Alex loved him. The corruption he faces extends around the world, to government leaders, powerful figures that will do anything for power and reward. What hurts him the most is the toll events take on his moral nature, events over which he has no power. He also fears his girlfriend, played by Juliet Rylance, will find out the truth. The series is inspired by Misha Glenny’s best-selling book McMafia and produced by the folks behind Black Mirror, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Take. It is shot in locations around the world.
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Theo Anthony’s stunning documentary Rat Film airs Monday on PBS’ Independent Lens at 10 PM ET. This is a masterpiece, a weird and wonderful cautionary tale. It opens with this creation story “When the world became the world, it was an egg, inside it was dark, a rat nibbled the egg and it cracked and let the light in and the world began”. In addition “a dream about a rat that started with a rat being shown food and having it taken away. He dreamed of reaching the food.” Set in Baltimore, Rat Film is “a mashup of history, science and sci-fi, poetry and portraiture”, a serious, artful film on a lead characters that provoke strong emotion, by which means the Black Death spread and wiped out most of Europe centuries ago. Rat Film is operatic and philosophical. The extraordinary hero is Edmond, a City rat catcher who thinks deep thoughts about his quarry. “Rats do what they do; they do not get educated and move to Beverley Hills”. Rats thrive in inner city Baltimore and Anthony traces the cause to racist city ordinances 200 years ago. Blacks lived in proscribed areas, in crowded, dilapidated hovels. Rats were able to enter living spaces and thrive. Maps from that time are superimposed over maps of the present day showing a clear correlation between the city then and urban issues now. Anthony uses 3D animation and computer-generated imagery, scored with rat-generated Theremin and player piano to haunting effect. Edmond marvels at these creatures and wonders if they go to heaven.
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You’ve heard about it and its finally here! BritBox, the streaming on demand service offering the best of British programming from the BBC and ITV has landed in Canada. The slate includes Five by Five, produced by and starring Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee Idris Elba and Little Boy Blue, a four-part factual drama featuring Stephen Graham in their Canadian premieres, Maigret, starring Rowan Atkinson in his first drama series and Rowan Rewind, his best stuff. Plenty of classic shows and new ones that will be available shortly after the UK broadcast on Now – dramas, news programs, and soaps, Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, The Papers, PMQ (Prime Minister Questions), and Emmerdale, Holby City, and Casualty. Silent Witness, one of the longest-running procedural dramas starring award winner Emilia Fox, Reg, Jimmy McGovern’s award winning drama starring Tim Roth, Cold Feet with James Nesbitt, plus Doctor Who, Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off, Keeping Up Appearances with Patricia Routledge and Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet. https://www.britbox.com/ca
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