Murder On The Orient Express directed by Kenneth Branagh, is the 12th iteration of the classic Agatha Christie mystery, and one of those is a videogame. We all know whodunit, where, why and whatnot. But what a delicious chance to cram a slew of A-listers aboard a flash train carriage and have someone die – murder most foul! All while the train is stuck in the snow and no one’s going anywhere. The guilty party is at large in their tiny, privileged knot of socially elite travelers and accusations fly like black flies in spring. And what a bunch of suspects! Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman, Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Marwan Kenzari and Olivia Colman, for starters. Don’t expect change, this is old-school with new faces in a beloved chestnut with pretty winter mountain scenery.
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Lady Bird is heart tugging but authentic coming of age story about a mother and daughter, played by Saoirse Ronan and Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf. Teenager Lady Bird – as she has renamed herself – is trying to do what all children must eventually do, separate from the parent and step out into the world. Mother is frighteningly domestic, entirely tied to family, order and familiarity and the thought of losing her only child – as she imagines – is horrifying. Her neediness drives Lady Bird further from her and Mother is left in pain and fear with no purpose. Daughter is intoxicated by the possibilities she sees before her. First timer Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this achingly honest love story and deserves high praise; she’s a natural born filmmaker. Metcalfe’s quietly powerful performance adds to likelihood that Lady Bird will be fulsomely nominated come awards season.
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My Friend Dahmer is an imaginary portrait of the serial killer as an adolescent outcast featuring a haunting performance by Disney star Ross Lynch in the title role. Marc Meyers directs the film based on a book by one of the Jeff’s high school friends Derf Backderf. It’s a slow-moving, dreamlike tale of a boy with an appetite for killing small animals for their bones. He knows its wrong because he tells his friends the animals he carries in sacks are roadkill, but the concepts of right and wrong have no bearing on him. Killing animals for bones is simply his dad-approved hobby. We know where the story is going but we don’t see Dahmer grown up. He’s perpetually a handsome kid with a hobby. Later in life he killed his lovers and kept them in his fridge. The film doesn’t pretend to explain his psychology; it merely watches him, leaving us to fill in the blanks. It’s brilliant, grim and anxiety-provoking, especially with Anne Heche as his bizarre, disturbed mother. The strength of the film is that we are aware that Dahmer’s madness has taken root and that he is a blank, affect-less cardboard person. Chilling.
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One of my favourites this week is the absurd future comedy Infinity Baby directed by Bob Byington starring Kieran Culkin, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Stephen Root and an ensemble of fierce young comic actors. Greed and science are under the microscope as babies have been developed for sale that will never age. The salesmen go door to door in this dark hearted satire on consumerism and what could lie ahead of us. Meanwhile Culkin’s charming character is a serial monogamist always looking for a better girlfriend. He manipulates his mother into doing his breaking up for him. His slow-witted friends, Infinity baby salesmen don’t seem to understand what they’re doing. It’s a high risk and reward film, but is ultimately feel trapped by its satirical limitations. It was shot in black and white on a rare Alexa and while certainly of the future, has the feel of naïve fifties consumerism and misguided idealism.
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Who didn’t love The Fall? Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan star as a detective superintendent on the trail of a clever and elusive Belfast strangler serial killer. The detective and the perpetrator have a peculiar relationship, a shared persona, one good, one bad. He’s a nice middle class working man, a grief counsellor with a wife and child, a kind and thoughtful person until he’s gripped by murderous fever. She’s smart, lonely, work oriented and unstoppable. They are strategic and self-possessed. This extraordinary series set in Dublin, is complex and subtle and Anderson is peak Anderson. Dornan you will remember from Fifty Shades of Grey which is coming at us soon for a third time. All three seasons of The Fall are now available on Acorn DVD!
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The BBC’s Love Lies and Records is now streaming on Acorn TV starring the magnetic titular character of Agatha Raisin, Ashley Jensen. She’s in a new world now with higher stakes, as an official at the Leeds Registry office, in charge of carrying out civil ceremonies and registrations of births, deaths, marriages, divorces and citizenships. That’s a lot of storyline options. Jensen’s character is the heart and soul of the office and deals with a scheming co-worker who may have something on her, a transitioning colleague and plenty of office drama. The clients’ cases, forced marriages, death and dying and clashing cultures and her domestic situation make for serious self-doubt but she’s not one to quit.
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The Acorn series Acceptable Risk made its Canadian broadcast première this week on Super Channel It’s a Canada Ireland co-pro set in Dublin and Montreal. A woman’s husband is murdered on a business trip to Canada under extremely unusual circumstances. He was carrying a gun, which was out of character for him in his job with a powerful international corporation. His wife discovers over the course of the investigation that he was leading a double life and may have had a connection to her first husband. Thus begins her own investigation and its harrowing results. Elaine Cassidy stars.
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The Poetry of Apocalypse: The Films of Andrei Tarkovsky is must see for cinéphiles, on now at TIFF Bell Lightbox. I was only just introduced to this post war Russian filmmaker recently and am newly in love with cinema. He made only seven features and they are breathtaking. His is an altogether fresh approach that embodies new ways of shooting, lighting, pacing, writing and direction. He creates classical art in each frame and challenges us to recognise humanity in the characters and know that they are us. Tarkovsky’s 1972 sci-fi meditation Solaris is considered one of the greatest films in the history of the genre; part black and white part colour, it looks at parent and child, politics and personal belief and natures place in our increasingly artificial lives. It is a dream that opens on an idyllic family farm and moves onboard a Soviet space station. A psychologist is assigned to study deaths and reports of a giant child and once there experiences devastating hallucinations.
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Tarkovsky’s Stalker made in 1979 has strong visual appeal; it looks like old masters paintings come to life, with timeless characters dressed like Soviet labourers, in sepia tones, in black and white and colour. The beauty of a human body and face and the earthly surroundings is central, even as the man made world rots. It plays out painstakingly slowly and deliberately, a bold choice that pays off with in the vibrating silences. Three men cross a dangerous territory where they are shot at, chased and observed, towards the Zone where their dreams will be fulfilled.
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Tarkovsky’s films are characterised by really long shots that invite thought and reflection. His universe is beautiful and often silent, and water is a constant – rain, flooding, rivers, lakes and leaks, recreating life in the womb. I’m at a loss to describe his films properly because they have an all new cinematic language. Thank goodness for this retrospective at Lightbox, where Tarkovsky’s seven masterpieces are being shown on 35mm film. If there was ever a retro with the power to change everything we know about cinema, this is it. Nov 9 – 30, 2017. Learn more here.
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