Sicario released in 2015 and starring Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro was astounding in its radical look at the war on drugs at the US/Mexico border and the prices paid on both sides of the law. It is unusually gripping, even haunting, and from the point of view of a police / federal agents doing their extreme high risk job; its powerful images linger. And now, a follow-up Sicario: Day of the Soldado in which the US war against drugs has escalated to out of control heights. New twist – the cartels are now smuggling Islamic terrorists across the border, a lucrative side gig. US agents played by Brolin and Del Toro revamp their efforts to bring about justice, and take no prisoners; they will do whatever it takes, damn the body count, to win this complex war as moral boundaries no longer exist, even for the “good” guys. The energy and drive and pounding pace remain; the elegance of the first film is overshadowed here by extreme violence and madness and an end-of-days vibe that’s profoundly unsettling. It may well mirror what’s happening down south with its portrait of desperation and heartlessness.
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Westwood: Punk. Icon. Activist. Legendary British designer and shaper of seventies culture Vivienne Westwood appears prickly, defensive and refuses to talk about her husband a collaborator Malcolm McLaren and the legendary band they managed, The Sex Pistols. At seventy-seven she’s earned the right to do so even though that was a rebellious, heady time in British cultural life and she was the queen. Documentarian Lorna Tucker must glean tidbits about London in the 70’s and 80’s from other eye witnesses. Westwood’s life today is worlds apart. Now a Dame and an established, award winning designer on an international scale, things are different, but her innate radical spirit shines through. Cycling home from her London store wearing a rainbow of colours, trekking to the Arctic to witness the effects of climate change and enjoying her rebel reputation, she’s an inspiration. Westwood says early in the doc that she has spatial intelligence, that as a child, she made her own clothes and that she could have make a pair of shoes at age five. Her third, much younger husband Andreas Kronthaler has taken over many of her design and business duties, as Westwood campaigns for the environment, leftist politics and other issues. The colour saturated film is a joy, beautiful to look at, with a lovely bit of nostalgia and reminder to all of to keep on rebelling!
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The sci fi flick Darken falls victim to a common trap for horror and genre films in that it’s entirely humourless. There is no relief from an overwrought story set in a rabbit warren of a dark, dangerous underworld peopled by minor gods and goddesses, their slaves and enemies. Filmmakers are fixed on describing this alternative world and its hierarchy and operation so there is notion to connect to in any meaningful way; we’re being read the rules with occasional emotional outburst from the cast. Wooden, over-the-top performances undermine the suspension of disbelief needed for a genre outing like this. Filmmaker Audrey Cummings celebrates women as powerful focal characters in the real world and the underground world of Mother Darken but its flat and artificial with an overall vibe of fear, unhappiness and decay and that’s monotonous. The arrival of a regular real world girl into the mix, named of course, Eve, can’t lighten the load. Florid, they name is Darken. Bea Santos, Oluniké Adeliyi, Ari Millen and Zoë Belkin star.
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The superior limited series A Very English Scandal on Amazon Prime Video stars Hugh Grant as an uncharacteristically flawed character and Ben Whishaw as his manipulative, vituperative equal. They play disgraced British Liberal Member of Parliament Jeremy Thorpe and stable boy Norman Scott, the secret lover he plotted to murder in the 70’s. Stephen Frears directs the jaw dropping story in a straightforward manner, allowing the full weight of the characters and actions to land on the mark through precise, classic filmmaking. Thorpe was acquitted of conspiring to murder blackmailing Norman but the real pain he may have felt was from Thorpe’s rape “initiation” rather than the health card he wanted Thorpe to get for him. Scott sued for small potatoes, 30 pounds, and kept Thorpe’s impassioned love letters as evidence. Thorpe’s refusal to pay set Scott on a course of vengeance, speaking openly about their affair to anyone who would listen. Thorpe then drew his circle of friends into a plot he’d hatched to kill Scott, warning “If I am made pubic I would blow my brains out” and adding it would be “no worse than shooting a sick dog”. And even after Thorpe’s cohorts warned him off, Scott refused to back down. Thorpe determined to kill him. This was the elected leader of the Liberal party. And this is just the first of three episodes. It’s an excellent series, with perfect swift pacing, tart, witty dialogue and reminder of the cruel history of the state against gays and classism in Britain.
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The Rape of Recy Taylor, available Monday, July 2nd at 9:00 pm on the Starz App has raised buzz around the festival circuit, a powerful true story of inequality, cruelty and violence in Abbeville, Alabama in 1944. Wife and mother Mrs. Recy Taylor walked down an ill-lit long road home from church one night when she was blindfolded, abducted, beaten, mutilated and raped by six white teenagers. If it hadn’t been for “race films” and the black press getting word out, her story would not have been told. It was though and was an early spark for the civil rights movement; her story drew help from growing numbers of grassroots movement and from activist Rosa Parks who herself was beaten when she came to interview Recy. The Taylor home was firebombed and constantly surveilled by whites. The attackers walked free after lawyers failed to get indictments against them. Oprah commented “I hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years and even now goes marching on”. Fascinating interviews with family and friends, witnesses, observers and scholars shed light on the attitudes of the day, hold overs from slavery when white men felt entitled to use black women. The case has implications to this day.
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Netflix has Jerry Seinfeld’s pet project Comedians in Cars Getting Coffeethank goodness. The YouTube series, a combination of famously funny side-kicks micro dissecting the world enroute to a good old fashioned café while riding in slick wheels is a breath of fresh air. Going head to head with Jer on any topic under the sun are, among others, the sardonic and brilliantly funny Alec Baldwin who grew up in Seinfeld’s hometown of Massapequa, Tracy Morgan, Ellen DeGeneres, Dave Chappelle, Zach Galifianakis, Kate McKinnon and the late Jerry Lewis and John Mulaney. I don’t have enough paper to finish the list of Bold Names he picks for his coffee ridealongs, but like the coffee they drink, I am addicted to this comglom of short, sharp and witty back and forth with all that appealing camaraderie. I also enjoy the lingering, loving close ups of coffee and foam entering cups, sometimes in slo-mo.
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The glorious thing about TIFF’s film series is watching movies from long ago and far away on big screens, often in their original formatting. The latest retrospective Modernist Master: Michelangelo Antonioni running to July 21 at TIFF Bell Lightbox celebrates the artistic vision and revolutionary non-narrative approach to film that placed him in the pantheon of film giants. Antonioni’s visual sense and art direction is stunning, extending to the films’ architecture, wardrobe and set design. His “trilogy on modernity and its discontents” L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962) are being shown as new 35 MM prints, created by Rome’s Luce Cinecitta specifically for this touring retrospective. Red Desert is also focussed on modernity and discontent!
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L’Avventura, Sunday, July 8 – 6:50PM and Sunday, June 24 – 3:15PM
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Red Desert – Sunday, July 17 – 6:30PM *Introduced by writer and essayist Durga Chew-Bose and Friday, July 20 – 6:30PM.
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI