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First March Movies Post

First let me note that the best viewing on any screen is the just released season 3 on Netflix of the phenomenal German production Babylon Berlin. To get a sense of why read this early commentary on the first season in the New York Review of Books:
I review four features below, including one at the multiplex.  But continuing on streaming content I share the reservations about the new Amazon Prime series “Hunters” expressed in this recent discussion on CBC radio:
Viewer beware.
This is also the title of one of the great classics of the silent era, from 1924 directed by Eric von Stroheim who was born to a Jewish family in Vienna. The original version was 9 hours long famously sparking a fight with studio mogul Louis B. Mayer (born in the Russian empire, now in Ukraine, and raised in New Brunswick) who cut it down to 140 minutes.  Some parts have been lost.  The new drama from prolific filmmaker Michael Winterbottom satirizing the lifestyle of the filthy rich suffers no such indignities (though one of the characters gets the last chomp).
            The protagonist, loosely inspired by the notorious business practices of Brit billionaire Sir Philip Green, is a flamboyant Brit fashion clothing tycoon known as “the king of the high street”.  He’s Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie, played up with gusto by Steve Coogan (who’s made eight movies with Winterbottom including partnering with comic impersonator Rob Brydon on The Trip, The Trip to Italy, The Trip to Spain, and the latest, The Trip to Greece).  McCreadie is a ruthless social climber from youth (with Jamie Blackley in the role) and overall exploiter, notably including along his supply chain down to ill-paid garment workers in Sri Lanka.  “The unacceptable face of capitalism”, he remains shamelessly unrepentant as a witness before a parliamentary inquiry, clips of which are interspersed in the narrative, much of which concerns preparations for an absurdly extravagant 60th birthday bash—complete with Roman empire pretensions—on the Greek island of Mykonos. Others in the main party include Greedy’s crusty Irish mom Margaret (Shirley Henderson), buxom ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fischer), a new fashionista main squeeze, a harassed female head assistant, and reedy son Finn played by Asa Butterfield  initially sporting a few wisps of facial hair. (Butterfield, who turns 23 on April 1, is back as a 16-year old compulsive wanker in season 2 of Netflix’s “Sex Education” series.) All this is being chronicled by the rather dimwitted Nick (David Mitchell) for an authorized hagiography of the “great man”.  Another irony-rich element is McCreadie’s solution for a group of unsightly Syrian refugees camped on the beach.  And not least for the coup de grace, there’s Clarence the seemingly sleepy lion.
            Greed, bookended by an “Only Connect” quote attributed to E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, closes with a series of stats about worker exploitation and global inequality, though the scenario is more absurdist mockumentary than Oxfam exposé. An untidy affair of scattered potshots and jokey asides to be sure, it’s still a blast. A-    (Listen to an insightful CNN interview with Winterbottom and Coogan:
In the wake of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s conviction on sexual assault charges, anything related has acquired a harder-edged spin.  However, very much in contrast to Bombshell,  this low-key narrative from writer-director Kitty Green underwhelms with its dimly-lit scenario that only hints at predatory conduct by the big boss who is never shown (we just hear from him a couple times and there are several angry phone calls from his wife).  In a wintry New York-type city the titular character Jane (Julia Garner) is five weeks into a new job providing secretarial and overall “girl Friday” support to a movie producing company, catering to a mostly male workplace.  The “bros” closest to her desk coach her on composing groveling apologies whenever she gets on the touchy head honcho’s wrong side.  When a naïve young female from Idaho with no experience is given a job after what Jane suspects as inappropriate activity in a hotel, she considers making a complaint to a company officer (Matthew Macfaydyen). His dismissive response—“I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  You’re not his type.”—would seem to confirm the worst but doesn’t lead anywhere.  Jane doesn’t quit, confront, or take stronger action.  Although the movie captures the enabling atmosphere for abuse to occur and even thrive with relative impunity over time, it doesn’t leave one with any sense of empowerment or redress and that seems like a missed opportunity.  B
The Invisible Man (Australia/U.S./Canada/UK 2020
Although this multiplex horror-thriller is from writer-director Leigh Whannell (co-creator of the awful “Saw” and “Insidious” franchises) it does have in the lead role the excellent Elisabeth Moss who’s become best known for the TV series based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  She plays Cecilia Kass, the wife of an obsessively controlling high-tech tycoon Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who’s into advanced “optics”.  They live in some kind of ultra-surveillance mansion when one night Cecilia manages to abscond (barely) from Adrian’s clutches with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). Cecilia takes refuge in the home of an African-American policeman James (Aldis Hodge) and daughter Syd (Storm Reid).  Cecilia is terrified and even after news of Adrian’s apparent suicide she’s convinced he’s faked his death and is watching and waiting.  Then she’s informed by Adrian’s vaguely sinister executor-brother Tom (Michael Dorman), who claims to have hated him, of a multi-million dollar bequest with conditions. Good news right?  No, things get more ominous.  Cue the standard creepy suspense tropes (eerie music, a shower scene, a closet, an attic) even before the knives come out. We’re already deep into psycho phantom stalker-hunter territory (how invisible?) before the multiple bloody twists of the last half hour.  And guess who walks away … B-     
Rosie (Ireland 2018)
Working from a Roddy Doyle script, director Paddy Breathnach makes the issues behind a housing crisis very personal by focusing on the travails of a Dublin family of six that is struggling to find permanent accommodation after having to leave a rented house of 7 years.  Husband John Paul (Moe Dunford) has a job in a restaurant but finding something both affordable and available is a fulltime worry for wife Rosie Davis (Sarah Greene) who spends hours in the car and on the phone trying just to get a night or two as a temporary stopgap (a city council credit card pays) while managing the kids.  It doesn’t help that she’s estranged from her mom and refuses to stay there. When the oldest daughter goes missing Rosie is at her wits end.  At least temporarily the family is effectively homeless with all the strains and desperation that entails.  It’s the kind of social realist drama, captured by handheld camera with no sugarcoating the story’s wintry gray, that reminds me of the work of Ken Loach or the Dardenne brothers.  B+


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April 24, 2019 was the official launch of The Best of Screenings and Meanings: A Journey Through Film at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Saskatoon, SK