Alien: Covenant follows the next gen crew aboard the spaceship Covenant seeking new planets to colonize. The astronauts are male and female couples who hope to settle into domestic life and reproduce when they find their home. They think they’ve found it in a place with water, oxygen, and grain. So if the planet can sustain animal life, why isn’t there any? Katherine Waterston’s captain knows something is amiss but they can’t get away, so … Prepare for a sustained sensory assault. Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Jussie Smollett and Danny McBride are along for the rocket ride of their lives.
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Kelley Reichardt’s naturalistic anthology Certain Women is about as close as it gets to living characters’ lives. The story of three women and a man that strangely connects them is a living puzzle. Each event is seen with the ripple effect is creates as their stories overlap, two lawyers, a back to the lander and a farm worker in and out of Billings Montana set against a massive landscape that puts the human experience into perspective. Reichardt’s paean to nature gives the stories context and breathing room. Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone work wonders under Reichardt’s direction and are authentic and relatable but the true star is the director’s unfailing eye for the world we live in.
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Liev Schreiber is Chuck, real life boxer Chuck Wepner whose might and iron will in the boxing ring inspired Sylvester Stallone’s film character Rocky Balboa. Wepner famously went an astonishing 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in the 1975 heavyweight world championship. He well and truly lost but determined to stay standing. Wepner suffered an enormous number of injuries in his 10 year career but off the canvas led an equally damaging life of alcohol and drug addiction, infidelity, prison, isolation in this ultimately dispiriting biopic. Co-stars Elisabeth Moss, Ron Perlman, Naomi Watts.
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Alone in Berlin is the true story of anti-Third Reich activists Otto and Elise Hampel. Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson launch a clandestine pamphlet campaign against Hitler in 1940 when their son is killed fighting for Germany. Their postcard initiative is noticed by a high ranking Nazi police inspector (Daniel Brühl) who hunts obsessively for the source for months. His inability to find it puts his life in jeopardy under the crushing new regime. It’s a chilling story co-written and directed by actor Vincent Perez.
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Wizard of Lies is the chilling biopic of one of the most hated men in recent history, Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff who “made off” with $50B of his investors’ money, including his own sons’. Robert De Niro is redeemed after a long period of mediocre work and at the top of his game as the charming sociopath who bankrupted his marks without remorse. Michelle Pfeiffer is his long suffering but doggedly loyal wife who was left to fear for her safety, in isolation and poverty. Madoff failed to understand the depth of suffering he caused but has time to think about it while serving a 150 year prison term. HBO May 20.
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The documentary I Am Heath Ledger shines a light on the late, great actor via co-stars, friends and family including Naomi Watts, Ang Lee, Ben Mendelsohn and Ledger’s family with archival footage, home movies and films. I’m sure this is something he would have hated. The notoriously reclusive star stepped away to lead a normal life in Brooklyn with Michelle Williams and their daughter and distance himself from fame. Interviewees state that he wanted it, got it, rejected it and wanted to quit and direct. Williams did not grant an interview. Premieres May 22 on The Movie Network.
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The Gardener takes us behind the scenes of one of the world’s greatest private gardens, the 20 acre Les Quatre Vents, in Charlevoix, Québec. Businessman turned horticulturalist Frank Cabot of the historic and powerful American Cabot family left it all behind to create his passion, a canvas of beauty that only an extremely wealthy man with a dream could create. It features a garden sculptures, secret hideaways follies based on European model, and a breathtaking array of plants that thrive there despite the cool Zone 4 location. Even if you don’t so gardens this film will transport you into a world of natural majesty and beauty that Cabot envisioned. He says every gardener is rebuilding the Garden of Eden. Montréal filmmaker Sébastien Chabot’s gorgeous debut is unforgettable.
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National Geographic’s new series Year Million premieres Tuesday in which today’s great thinkers ponder the future for us in various time frames – 2050, 2099, 2250, 3000, 500,000, and finally Year Million. High level dramatizations, interviews and documentary material from Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Neil Degrasse Tyson among others are fascinating, and sometimes startling and sobering. From the changing nature of homo sapiens to the self-aware robot, to cryogenic life extension, it’s all on the table. Hawking recently gave us 100 years to remain on this planet so better watch this soon. Year Million premieres Tuesday.
PBS has undertaken a terrific series for American Masters called “Chefs Flight“. Some of the greatest modern chefs, the original celebrity chefs in the television age are profiled – James Beard, Julia Child and next Friday at 9, Jacques Pépin: The Art of Craft, immediately followed by American Masters: Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution at 10 p.m. Pépin was an immigrant to the US from Lyon France and become one of the first TV food superstars alongside his friend Julia Child. He credited his success to manual dexterity but his on-air charm and precise, yet simple tips fascinated viewers. From cooking for French President Charles de Gaulle to Paris’ Plaza Athénée to New York’s Pavilion and the Howard Johnson chain, he brought old France to the new world. His books La Technique and Le Method, with no recipes are considered “bibles”.
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Alice Waters’ cosy eatery Chez Panisse established for a few friends in Berkeley in the seventies found its legs early and became a sensation. Waters forged relationships with local farmers and used their products on a seasonal scale from dairy to olive oil and meat and thus was launched the California Cuisine movement. She had help from wunderkind Jeremiah Tower but Alice’ colourful personality and yen for simplicity helped elevate her restaurant to international status.
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