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Christmas Releases: The Favourite, Vice

Christmastime Releases These opened across Canada on Christmas Day.
The Favourite (Ireland/UK/U.S. http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thefavourite/) Several of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s previous films have left me cold, indeed repelled (Dogtooth, The Killing of a Sacred Deer).But in this case, an uproarious ribald costume drama set during the early 1700s reign of Britain’s Queen Anne, his twisted sense of black humour results in sheer delight.The dotty, gout-afflicted Anne (Olivia Colman) is being controlled by a viperish right-hand woman Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) determined to raise land taxes to prosecute a war with the French.That is until a servant woman Abigail (Emma Stone) comes on the scene, relieves Anne’s condition and schemes her way into Anne’s favours, affections, and bed.Abigail gets her way in cahoots with the leader of a flamboyantly bewigged and attired parliamentary faction of landowning gentleman. From a vicious rivalry for Anne’s attentions, only one “lady” can emer…

Recent Releases: Clint, Jack, Marwen, and Ben

Clint, Jack, Marwen, and Ben
As the holiday movie season begins, for good entertainment value and family viewing I can recommend several animated features still in theatres: Ralph Breaks the Internet and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.The latter is such a hyper-kinetic kaleidoscope of computerized sound-and-light special effects it carries a sensitivity warning. What appeals is the story that reimagines the cartoon legend with a Latino teenage boy as hero. More adult awards-contending pictures will open Christmas Day, about which more in a next post. Below reviews of four other very different recent releases.
The Mulehttp://www.themulefilm.net/ I’ve long been a fan of Clint Eastwood and at 88 he still has the chops both in the director’s chair and on the screen.This is one of those truth is stranger than fiction stories based on a New York Times magazine profile of a 90-year old who worked for the Sinaloa cartel transporting their cocaine across state lines.(The screenplay adaption is b…

Roma: Netflix Brings the Best Movie of the Year

Netflix Brings the Best of 2018: Roma

Roma
         If you don’t have Netflix it would be worth getting it just to watch this Mexican masterwork as it will have only a very limited theatrical release.  Roma, which won the Venice film festival’s top prize, is the year’s best reviewed film with reason.  I’ve added below one among many laudatory reviews.
        Let me add a few notes to that.  The story, set in the “Roma” residential neighborhood of Mexico City 1970-71, obviously draws on director Cuarón’s personal memories.  It combines strikingly evocative images, a cinematic poetry, with remarkable realism, so much so that at times you could swear you were watching a black-and-white documentary from that period.  The class structure is apparent: the lower orders with Indigenous blood (a majority of Mexicans are ‘mestizo’- mixed race) serve well-to-do households like the one depicted in the film—a professional couple with five children (four boys and a girl) and a grandmother living with…

New on Netflix

New on Netflix for the Holiday Season
I keep being impressed by the quantity and often quality of the content made available for online streaming on Netflix.HBO is just now showing its first non-English language production—the excellent Italian series My Brilliant Friend.But Netflix, now in over 180 countries, is way ahead in terms of top-notch international productions.In a previous post I praised the German series Babylon Berlinset in 1929.I’m also hooked by the new Polish series 1983 set during the last years of the Communist Cold War era (8 episodes so far, fraught with danger, intrigue, murder, sex, and treachery in a hothouse of repression versus revolutionary agitation). On the documentary side, an absolute must view are the 8 episodes of Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II: A Natural History of the Oceans. One runs out of superlatives to describe the diverse range of of astonishing underwater images illustrating an amazing compendium of often little-known information. Atten…

Poltical Sex Scandals Then vs. Now

Political Sex Scandals Then vs. Now
The Front Runner The biggest irony of the “Me too/time’s up” climate of zero tolerance for alleged sexual misdeeds is the seeming impunity of the serial offender in the White House.Donald Trump’s ardent followers, including evangelical Christians, seem to excuse with alacrity his bragging about sexually assaulting women (“you can do anything”) and illegally paying off porn stars. Mind you, in the 1990s Bill Clinton survived an impeachment process over his sexual sins. Canadian filmmaker Jason Reitman takes us back to the 1980s with a cautionary tale about the rise and precipitous fall of Colorado Democratic Senator Gary Hart who in 1988 was the prohibitive favorite for his party’s presidential nomination. Hugh Jackman gives a convincing portrayal of the well-spoken progressive telegenic Hart who, although then separated from his wife Lee (played by Vera Farmiga), seemed to have everything going for him.Hart’s campaign, led by the hard-nosed operative B…

Painting Eternity: Andrei Rublev, At Eternity's Gate

Painting Eternity
On December 4, the Canadian Film Institute of which I am a longtime ambassador member presented a very special event—the screening of a fully restored version of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 205-minute masterwork Andrei Rublev,first seen in Moscow in December 1966 but suppressed by the Soviet authorities.It was not shown internationally until 1969 (at the Cannes film festival), and not in North America until October 1973.[Interestingly 1966 is also when Sergey Bondarchuk’s epic monumental 427-minute War and Peace was first released in the Soviet Union. Among my greatest films of all time it’s reviewed in my book The Best of Screenings & Meaningsat pp. 29-30 and 168-169.] The setting for Andrei Rublev is the early 15th century Russian empire.The titular central figure is a monk and renowned icon painter.Beyond the monastery many of the scenes take place in and around the ancient city of Vladimir (200 kms east of Moscow), which had been the medieval capital.Its Cathedral of th…

In Praise of the Danish Screen

In Praise of the Danish Screen: Walk With Me and The Guilty
The Canadian Film Institute’s 33rd European Union Film Festival wrapped today presenting excellent features from 27 of 28 member countries. (See all titles and descriptions at:  https://www.cfi-icf.ca/euff.The UK has not participated since the 2016 Brexit vote.) I was able to see 20, and in addition had already seen Cold War (Poland) and Transit (Germany), both by master filmmakers, at the Toronto film festival (see previous post). The one I was most struck by was the Danish entry Walk with Me (not to be confused with the eponymous 2017 documentary about a Zen Buddhist community). Tiny Denmark punches way above its weight when it comes to both the big and the small screen.Borgen (Danish for “government”) sounds dull but is the best ever made-for-television contemporary (2010-2013) political drama series. There is an abundance of film talent beyond the works of internationally acclaimed directors such as Lars von Trier, Thomas Vin…

More from TIFF: Of Private Wars and Green Books

Two More from TIFF: Of Private Wars and Green Books
A Private War(UK/U.S.) After helming two masterful documentaries (2015’s Oscar-nominated Cartel Land and 2017’s Emmy-nominated City of Ghosts), director Matthew Heineman approaches this dramatic retelling of the life and death of intrepid American war correspondent Marie Colvin with a similarly compelling passion that serves its subject well. Rosamund Pike is extraordinary in the role of Colvin who wrote dispatches for the London Sunday Times from the world’s worst conflict zones—Sri Lanka (in 2001 where she lost an eye), Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya (the last Western journalist to interview Gaddafi), Syria.She became known for wearing a black eye patch (and a fashionista La Perla bra).The film doesn’t gloss over the demons of PTSD and a stormy personal life in which she chain smoked and drank to excess. But it connects most strongly when she is face to face with the victims of war’s evils, determined to tell the truth of these human stori…

Bogdanovich, Welles, and the Great Buster

Bogdanovich, Welles, and Buster
I’m grateful to Ottawa’s historic Mayfair Theatre for bringing the marvelous documentary reviewed below on the life and storied career of Buster Keaton, the silent era’s comedic genius rivaled only by Charlie Chaplin.(They appeared together on screen only once, in Chaplin’s Limelight from 1952.)The Mayfair opened in 1932, only a few years after that era ended, and has occasionally brought back silent classics. The Great Buster is written and directed by veteran filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich who also helms the new Netflix documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead recounting the notorious saga of Orson Welles’ unfinished project The Other Side of the Wind, a much-troubled production from decades ago starring John Huston intended as a satire on the movie business with which Welles had a famously fraught relationship.A much younger Bogdanovich appears as a character in The Other Side which he helped to finish, the result which premiered at Venice, skipping Toro…

Praising Lucas Hedges in Boy Erased and Mid90s

A Lucas Hedges Triple Play
          Two young actors have emerged recently as among the most promising male talents of their generation.Both already have Oscar nominations: Timothée Chalamet in 2018 for a lead role in Call Me By Your Name; Lucas Hedges in 2017 for a supporting role in Manchester By the Sea. Chalamet has earned praise for his latest role as a drug-addicted son in Beautiful Boy (see previous blog post on Toronto film festival selections).Hedges appears in three current films.The last to be released, Ben is Back, is also in the role of a drug-addicted son, and is helmed by his writer-director father Peter Hedges.It opens December 7. Here are notes on the other two.All were TIFF selections.
Boy Erased (U.S. http://www.focusfeatures.com/boy-erased)
          Australian actor-director Joel Edgerton helms this sobering true-story drama about the consequences of religious so-called “gay conversion” therapy programs.He has enlisted Aussie A-listers Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidma…

Penguins, Widows, Forgiveness

Penguins, Widows, Forgiveness
The Penguin Counters (Argentina/Antarctica/U.S. https://www.penguincountersmovie.com/)
Who doesn’t love penguins?I certainly do, all 17 species.It’s been 18 years since I had some memorable encounters with these remarkable seabirds at the other end of the earth.This wonderful documentary helmed by Peter Getzels, Harriet Gordon Getzels and Erik Osterholm, was produced in 2014 but appears to have had a theatrical release only in 2017. (It’s available on iTunes.I saw it via the Sundance Now streaming service.)The film follows the voyage of a research team led by Ron Naveen to document penguin numbers in order to understand what is happening to these populations and their adaptability in the face of climate change.(Read more about his decades-long Antarctic Site inventory project on the film’s website above.) What made the movie extra special for me was that it was on the same Russian ship, the Akademik Ioffe, following a similar route to the one I did in Decemb…