This quiet gem offers further proof that Joaquin Phoenix is one of the best younger actors working in Hollywood today. Don’t Worry – He Won’t Get Far on Foot puts him in yet another extreme character, and he reveals it, body and soul. John is a disarming alcoholic whose downtimes are painfully visceral and accelerating. When his drinking buddy pal Dexter (Jack Black) falls asleep at the wheel and crashes, he walks away with scratches but John is permanently paralysed. He drinks harder, swigging from bottles held between his wrists as his caregiver looks on. He attends an AA-like meeting led by the magnetic Donny (Jonah Hill) and begins an excruciating recovery process. Donny stresses enlightenment and faith in a higher being, as John deals with the mother who abandoned him as in infant. “I know three things about my mother. She is Irish American, she has red hair, and she’s a teacher. Oh, and she didn’t want me”. He recovers his ability to draw political cartoons and strides towards independence. The film is a journey told with compassion and inclusion, a signature of writer director Gus Van Sant, and realized via Phoenix’ tremendous range. Hill shows a new layer to his talent in a serene and reflective performance that’s frankly thrilling. This is a Van Sant character study, reflective and mournful, enlivened by wit and increasing positive awareness of life’s possibilities. He examines faith and belief in God as tools for positive change which is mostly unheard of these days. Rooney Mara, Udo Keir and Sonic Youth’ Kim Gordon co-star.
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My film deputy Christine Bentley prescreened Mama Mia and here’s what she has to say ” Mamma Mia 2 is an absolute delight…entertainment in it’s purest form. Unlike most sequels, this one is better than the original. Even though this movie genre is one where the audience has no real expectations, there is actually a story line this time, with no dancing and singing dead spots. It is fun and colourful and an all round feel good. For anyone who had any doubts about Cher still “ having it,” trust me, she still has the magic in spades. It will make you fall in love with Abba all over again.
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It was ever thus for an adolescent girl, struggling with confusion but hoping for the best. Eighth Grade from YouTube pop culture phenom Bo Burnham, a grown man, looks inside the mind of a 13 year old girl where he apparently found an artistic comfort zone. Kayla (Elsie Fisher) stars in her own YouTube channel to advise and entertain girls her age, with makeup, dating and life lessons, and she’s brimming with confidence. Her reality is far different as an introvert who wins a school award as “the quietest“ with painfully low self-esteem. She allows herself to be dominated by the school mean girls in hopes they’ll include her and she’s attracted to anyone she deems better than herself. The one person who supports her no matter what is her father (Josh Hamilton) and she treats him like an annoying disease. Kayla’s humiliation at school and a bad experience in a car with a boy are stark contrasts to her dream of who she wants to be. Burnham’s ability to grasp what is going on in an adolescent girl’s mind is impressive. He looks at being thirteen in the digital age honestly and finds encouragement even as he bites the YouTube hand that feeds him. It’s interesting that he goes pre- digital musically with Enya’s Orinoco Flow on repeat. The film`s a work of art even if parents and social media get the short ends of the stick.
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Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson’s Under the Tree is a slice of life in the Trump age, the age of anger, Iceland style. War breaks out as two neighbours spat over the shade cast by a tree on the others’ patio. A trivial thing that most people might solve together but grief and rage intervene in this excellent film. Baldvin and Inga have lost their son, literally according to Inga, and their other son Atli, the one they love less, moves home when his marriage ends due to his infidelity. He stalks his estranged wife, makes violent scenes at their child’s school and is spinning out of control. But not, it seems, as out of control as his mother. Inga throws dog doo doo at the young sun worshipping wife escalating the tree war, then her tires are slashed, May’s planters are wrecked, Inga’s cat disappears and then the May Decembers’ dog shows up on their porch dead and stuffed. Things come to a head late one night when Mr. December sneaks over with a chainsaw. This is no neighbour romp; this is deadly serious and reminds us that events can spiral out of control when goodwill is trumped by the reptilian brain. Sly humour relieves the tension, as when Atli takes his kidnapped daughter to the local IKEA for an outdoor picnic. Under the Tree won seven Icelandic Oscars including best film, director, actor (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson), actress (Edda Björgvinsdóttir), supporting actor (Sigurður Sigurjónsson), screenplay and visual effects.
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I had trouble sleeping after watching the Canadian documentary Letter from Masanjia by Leon Lee. Events began in Damascus, Oregon in 2012, when homemaker Julie Keith opened a box of Hallowe’en decorations with a handwritten note attached to the back. It was an SOS from an inmate in China’s notorious Masanjia Labour Camp begging for someone to alert officials to conditions inside. Sun li was a dissident being “re-educated” through torture and forced labour – painting Hallowe’en decorations for export to Kmart. His crime was practising Falun Gong, a lifestyle of compassion, truth and tolerance. China was cracking down, jailing and killing practitioners. Keith released the note and western media jumped on it. At home and out of prison, Sun li saw the coverage on a lack news site and decided to take a camera to Masanjia to disseminate the encrypted photos to the west. He reveals the unspeakable brutality of the tortures he suffered to the filmmakers. His wife was frightened because he’d been abducted by police 12 times and her family was at risk; she was sent to a brainwashing centre and branded an enemy of the state. Keith visited Sun li in China and they developed a powerful bond. But the story was far from over. It premieres July 21st at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Director Leon Lee will hold a Q & A session on July 22 and 23.
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Crave TV has Sacha Baron Cohen stirring the pot with the launch of his new, super incendiary satiric series Who is America? The première episode has him entirely camouflaged as Israeli anti-terrorist expert Col Erran Morad, interviewing former US congressman Joe Walsh, former Senator Trent Lott, California congressman Dana Rohrabacher and South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson to endorse “kinder-guardians”. He easily convinces these pro-gun activists, on video, that arming “gifted” children age four and up, to protect themselves in school shootings is a solid policy. Horrifying.
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Hulu launches Castle Rock , “a psychological horror series set in the Stephen King multiverse, an original story that combines the mythological scale and intimate character storytelling of King’s best-loved works, weaving an epic saga of darkness and light, played out on a few square miles of Maine woodland. “ How do you like them apples? Andre Holland stars with Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgård, Jane Levy and Sissy Spacek. It was so frightening I had to stop watching, but it is also oddly comforting, set in King’s familiar mind and landscapes.
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Also on Hulu is BBC’s hair raising This Country a mockumentary sitcom created, written and directed by and starring siblings Daisy May Cooper and Charlie Cooper. It’s about the day-to-day lives of two under functioning twenty something cousins in in a small Cotswolds village. A film crew is there, shooting a doc on the boredom and social isolation of rural young people. The cousins are the village enfants terrible, he sets fire to the Scarecrow Festival and sells a farmer`s pig, she terrorizes shop owners, forcing them to install panic buttons, and her father runs from her on sight. She says disdainfully of a guy who likes her “He’s utterly annoying and he has terminal cancer!” Her house is repeatedly plummed inside and out. Outrageous and a slow burn, without music, just bird song and verbal abuse. It’s so fresh it hurts.
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Now for a complete change of pace, do you love tender, fluffy, sweet baked goods dripping with icing? Me too. To celebrate the one hundredth episode of Bake with Anna Olson the Canadian dessert superstar dives into frosting. Yes the gooey stuff that makes or breaks desserts on top, inside and all around cakes, rolls, cookies, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, you know you want it. The episode features Confetti Frosted Sugar Cookie Squares, a chocolate Swiss roll and a Chai Layer Cake with Maple Frosting. That’s Sunday at 10:30 am on Food Network.
Fellow chef Mark McEwan, who helped transform the Toronto food scene twenty years ago has his own web series coproduced by Grub Content and Centennial College. Chef to Chef with Mark McEwan takes us inside the minds and kitchens of Toronto’s rising food stars. First up is former rapper and skateboarder Grant van Gameren turner restaurateur who owned five Toronto restaurants before he was 35. They meet in Bar Isabel to talk food. Next is Montreal based Chef Antonio Park who creates for Drake’s Pick 6IX restaurant where he and Mark chat about his traditional, humble, family oriented approach to food. Here’s Mark and Grant.
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A reminder that Dundas Square’s in the midst of its summer Rockumentaries film series and here’s the lineup for the coming days.
July 24 – The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years directed by Ron Howard. It won the 59th annual Grammys Best Music Film and follows the mop heads from their humble Liverpool origins to the final concert in San Francisco.
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July 31 – 20 Feet from Stardom celebrates backup singers Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, and Sting among others. Of special note is Merrie Clayton’s rushed and spine-tingling refrain in the Stones’ Gimme Shelter. – Whoa! It won Best Music Film at the 57th Grammy Awards and Best Documentary at the 86th Academy Awards.
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August 7 – Amy the bittersweet doc on the late great Amy Winehouse follows her burst of fame through to her death by overdose in 2011. It features interviews with friends and family and one especially poignant one with Amy.
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