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Ides of April Ideas for Home Viewing During Covid-19


With the cancellation of film festivals new methods of release are being explored.  For example, starting tomorrow April 16 CBC will start showing and streaming some titles from the HotDocs lineup. Check this out at:
The International Documentary Film Festival is also making available hundreds of titles online.
With Netflix’s “Tiger King” all the rage, it added a new 40-minute episode “Tiger King and I” of interviews with associates of “Joe Exotic”. A sample of the ongoing commentary:  
Here are reviews of other streaming choices:
Money Heist (Spain, Netflix, four seasons, 2017- April 2020, about 30 hours of episodes)
My good friend, ace journalist and author Andrew Cohen, put me on to this amazing Spanish series which began in 2017.  It’s smart, sexy, stylish, and fast-paced.  The Spanish title is “Las Casa de Papel” which translates literally as “The House of Paper”.  It involves a very unusual gang of eight men and women who take over Spain’s royal mint, holding many hostages, while running the presses to obtain billions in untraceable euros.  Their code names are the names of cities. The gang dresses everyone in their bright red jumpsuits and Salvador Dali facemasks, the better to confuse the authorities. (Occasional narration is by a trigger-happy gal “Tokyo”.)  The on-site leader is a smirking psychopath ‘Berlin” who has a terminal condition.  But the real criminal/kidnap mastermind is off-site, a young bearded “professor” (usual attire jacket and tie), who looks to me like he could be a leader of the left-wing popular movement “Podemos” (there’s a later riff about “resistance”). Anyway he starts playing a game with the lead female police agent Raquel, who has taken out a restraining order against her abusive ex-husband.   She knows him as a cider-maker “Salva” …and then their relationship gets much closer.
I was hooked enough to watch the first 13 episodes of “season 1”.  (Apparently the original Spanish TV series had 15, or 18, 2017 episodes, and Netflix then recut them over several seasons.)  Things get increasingly wild and crazy as the hostage situation approaches 60 hours, and that includes sexual hook-ups more improbable than the occasional bursts of violence. The demented aspects are part of what makes you keep watching.
How to Fix a Drug Scandal (U.S., Netflix 2020, four episodes)
As if the American “war on drugs” wasn’t enough of a mess, this docuseries explores the criminal actions of several chemists at drug testing laboratories in Massachusetts who tampered with evidence in many thousands of drug cases.  One became a drug addict on the job. Prosecutorial misconduct added to the miscarriage of justice pursued by defense attorneys.  
Official Secrets (UK/US 2019, Amazon Prime, https://www.ifcfilms.com/films/official-secrets)
Directed by Gavin Hood, and based on Thomas Mitchell’s book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katherine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion, Keira Knightley stars as Ms. Gun, a young analyst with Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) who is charged with violating the Official Secrets Act after leaking a secret NSA memorandum prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq that exposed underhanded efforts to influence Security Council members. The whistleblower case also exposed UK government efforts to cover up the illegality of military operations.  (In my view Blair and Bush are the real war criminals in all this.)  Also with Ralph Fiennes as Ms. Gun’s legal counsel.  
Hunters (US 2020, first season, Amazon Prime Video, 10 episodes)
In terms of alternate reality I prefer HBO’s The Plot Against America (set in 1940-42), but I did get into this series (set during the 1970s Carter presidency) enough to watch all 10 episodes.  And it is true that after the Second World War a number of former Nazis did come to America, including doctors, and scientists who worked on the space program.  Al Pacino stars as Holocaust survivor and head Nazi-hunter Meyer Offerman.  Logan Lerman is Jonah Heidelbaum, who joins Meyer’s Jewish Nazi hunter crew (although one member wears a Catholic nun’s habit?) after his grandmother is killed.  Another narrative element includes a “Fourth Reich” conspiracy involving a viral weapon of mass destruction in New York City (yikes!).  There’s lots of action and lethal violence, occasional awful fictionalized flashbacks to Auschwitz, with the widening hunter-killer scenarios leading up to a real humdinger of a last episode that offers deadly crazy revelations and reactions. Whew!
Freud (Austria/Germany 2020, Netflix, 8 episodes)
Thinking of psycho-sexual disorders, this series fictionalizing the life of the young Dr. Freud in Vienna gets stranger as it goes along—hypnosis, hysteria, cocaine use, the occult and crazed mediums, feuds, sex, intrigues, regression, suppression, madness and murder, bloody satanic rituals … need I say more?  
Elephant and In the Footsteps of Elephant (U.S. 2020, Disney+, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_(2020_film) )
This latest Disneynature documentary centres on a small elephant herd led by a 50-year old matriarch on its 1,000-mile migration from the Okavango Delta in flood stage, across the Kalahari desert to the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls and back again.  Within that, with its dramas of elephant society and survival, the storyline focuses on a 40-year old female and her one-year old calf.   These three main elephant characters are given names.  The narration by Meghan Markle (“Duchess of Sussex”) can be annoyingly cutesy and anthropomorphic.  This isn’t the authoritative voice of David Attenborough in the outstanding BBC Earth docs. Nonetheless there’s some amazing photography capturing the lives of elephants.  I actually liked better the story behind the arduous and protracted filming process which is explored in the excellent companion feature-length documentary In the Footsteps of Elephant. That film includes information on the “Elephants Without Borders” sanctuary that rescues orphan calves.  [In addition, on the Okavango delta I recommend the 2018 National Geographic film Into the Okavango which is also streaming on Disney+.]
Dolphin Reef and Diving with Dolphins (U.S. 2020, Disney + https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolphin_Reef_(film) )
Who doesn’t love dolphins?  This is another Disneynature production released at the same time as Elephant.  The story narrated by Natalie Portman also has an anthropomorphic element focused on two pairs—a bottlenose dolphin and its calf; a humpback whale and its calf.  Action includes other whales, rival dolphin pods, sharks, and all manner of wondrous sea creatures and corals, which are threatened by humans and climate change.  The undersea cinematography is amazing.  Again I highly recommend the companion 79-minute making-of documentary Diving with Dolphins which is narrated by Celine Cousteau, the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau.
Ikiru (Japan 1952, Kanopy)
Don’t forget about the titles available on this platform free with a public library card.  This early work by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa, released in my birth year, centres on a long-serving civil servant who after a cancer diagnosis decides to challenge the suffocating bureaucracy around him in order to leave a meaningful legacy.  “Ikiru” is Japanese for “to live”.




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