By Anne Brodie
Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s Neptune Frost, an “Afrofuturist sci-fi musical” produced by bad boy Ezra Miller and music gadfly Lin-Manuel Miranda is a musical science fiction smorgasbord that challenges our notions of what is film. It is a breakthrough in cinema, gentle, outrageous, bombastic, and wholly engaging. Cheryl Isheja, Elvis Ngabo, and Kaya Free lead the cast of this high-tech/low-country hymn to experiment and concerns coltan miner Matalusa and Neptune. Set in a remote coltan mine and e-waste dump in Burundi and Rwanda, it’s peopled by intersex characters in stunning costumes, singing, dancing, reciting philosophies, and fighting the powers that be. The “coltans” and a collective of hackers, named based on ideas, Memory, Innocent, Psychology, and Unanimous Goldmine, work together to better their lives, promote their humanist idealogy, and stand up to oppression and colonisation. It’s celebratory and ecstatic, and exhilarating in ways rarely expressed this intensely on film, as it explores time, politics, sleeping, waking, sexuality, reproduction, brain function, and motherboard circuitry. It’s a must-see that will fire the imagination. In Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Swahili, French, and English with English Subtitles. Toronto’s Revue Cinema July 10 and TVOD.
Apples, the feature debut of Greek director Christos Nikou, former assistant director to Yorgos Lanthimos, stars the haunted face – and persona – of Aris Servetalis. He’s Aris, the victim of a global pandemic that causes total amnesia, which reveals itself suddenly on a bus when he forgets everything he knew. He’s not carrying an ID so officials send him to a holding centre where they hope his family will claim him. No one shows up, as they have probably forgotten about him, so he’s placed in a memory rehab course. He must participate in certain specific activities from riding a bike to having sex, to confronting a person, to finding a woman to use her, and increasingly risky stuff, taking photos of himself in action in order to build a book of new memories. He meets a girl in memory rehab but a nascent romance never blooms. The film skillfully and imaginatively presents the painful details of life without memory, the inability to get a job, travel, or function as one once did, like ageing suddenly. Aris eats bushels of apples, one retained habit from his life earlier that day, before he was seized by amnesia. Nikou puts Aris on a profound journey as we wonder what our place is on this earth, and it pulls no punches. Who are we without memory? Apples, executive produced by Cate Blanchett, was conceived and shot before COVID-19. TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, Vancouver (Vancity), Ottawa (ByTowne), and in other cities in the coming weeks.
Remembering the storied hotel of poets, artists, musicians, thinkers, and cultural figures of the last 137 years, the 250-unit hotel at 222 West 23rd Street, New York in Dreaming Walls: Inside The Chelsea Hotel. Known primarily as a counterculture haven in the 60s’ where drugs, rock, and rebellion thrived, it is so much more. Among its guests and residents were Walt Whitman, Sarah Bernhardt, Frida Kahlo, Madonna, Patti Smith, Dylan Thomas, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Oscar Wilde, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Nico, Edie Sedgewick, and other superstars of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Most hotels have celebrity-studded guest lists but this was different. Books, art, music, and performance were about or referred to the Chelsea, and of course, art happened and still happens there. Today, it’s an odd mix of a construction site (for ten years!) and hovels, its original grand features muted by ruin and plastic sheeting. It is allegedly being transformed into an ultra-chic destination with a spa on the roof but long-term residents, many elderly and disabled, are forced to live in chaos or move out. The oldest resident says they are waiting for her to die. The Chelsea’s heydays were under the watch of “flexible” manager Stanley Bard, whose line was open to residents 24 hours a day. He let tenants pay later, or never, he encouraged their artistic dreams and created a fertile environment, but he left, the place was sold and it’s a different place. Meet long-term resident choreographer Merle Lister, a former dancer now dependent on her walker as she patrols the halls, practices her dances – gently- on the staircase, and waltzes with the construction workers. It’s a rapidly changing environment and you get the sense it will be transformed to look like any other luxury hotel in New York. At the moment it’s still a cheap hotel with “unassuming rooms and cable”. Martin Scorsese, an NYC history aficionado executive produced the doc directed by Amélie van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier, now on at Hot Doc Ted Rogers Theatre.
Taron Edgerton stars in and produced Apple TV+ gripping new 6-parter Black Bird for fans of psychological crime thrillers based on true stories. Edgerton’s tongue-in-cheek mocking himself as his character Jimmy Keene refers to “me and my million-dollar smile” and poses for lots of buff body shots. Jimmy’s a policeman’s (the late Ray Liotta) son and drug trafficker prison-bound for ten years and maybe more for carrying assault weapons. The Feds offer him a reduced sentence if he agrees to enact a con for them and threaten a longer stretch if he doesn’t. He’s to move to prison for the criminally insane and gets in the head of serial killer Larry Hall (Paul Walter Hauser) to discover the whereabouts of the bodies of fifteen women he murdered and thereby a confession. He must act fast as Hall’s appeal is coming up. Hall appears dazed, distracted, and mentally slow, so outsider and chief investigator Brian Miller (Greg Kinnear) engages him about his Civil and Revolutionary War re-enactments to “find common ground”. Hall says he remembers young girls in his van looking “sad” and seems keen to unload. It’s gritty and dark as such stories will be but Hauser’s first-rate acting is my prime takeaway. His vocal performance helps paint a psychological portrait of a man who has trouble discerning reality from waking dreams, has little control of his mind, and is extremely vulnerable. He seems to split into different versions of himself. Hauser was the title character in Richard Jewell but he’s versatile and started as a comedian. He is a character actor treasure. This hard-to-shake series is adapted from James Keene’s memoir In With The Devil: A Fallen Hero, A Serial Killer, and A Dangerous Bargain for Redemption.
Joe Hall’s The Road to Galena now in theatres and on TVOD is a ballsy film. Cole Baird (Ben Winchell) plays a not altogether likable lead who comes up from a rural farm town where his father (Jay O. Sanders) is the bank president and his mother (Jill Hennessy) a loving presence and against all odds, makes it to the top of a Washington law firm. But what a journey. He leaves behind his teenage love Elle (Aimee Teegarden), the farm he wanted for them, and his best friend Jack (Will Brittain) to fulfill his father’s dreams for him – corporate success out in the world. During Cole’s long absences, Elle and Jack marry, have kids, and run a farm. But no one seems happy. Cole has pushed up the corporate ladder, haunted by the idea that the life he wants and needs is long gone. Agricon, a corporate land-robbing monopoly is taking over his hometown and it occupies his thoughts and conscience. By now he’s unhappily married to Sarah (Alisa Allapach) an ambitious co-worker assigned to represent Agrico, he realises he doesn’t love her and his beloved mother is deteriorating. Cole is forced into a corner to rethink his life to find some measure of happiness. Thankfully not sappy, it’s a tough story with situations that represent corporate greed, economic constraints, and the validity of working for a dream of wealth, cars, mansions, and the cost of “the good life”. Interesting.
CBC TV, CBC Gem and CBS launch Skymed Sunday, a medical adventure series shot in northern Canada where medical teams and small plane pilots work remote parts of the county. The nearest hospitals are hours away by air so the team depends on one another to save lives in limited circumstances. Sometimes it means taking shortcuts to save lives. The population most affected is First Nations who lived on the land for millennia but have little access to health care. So there’s a lot riding on the staff’s shoulders. However, these bright lights ( Natasha Calis, Morgan Holmstrom, Aason Nadjiwon, Praneet Akilla, Mercedes Morris, Thomas Elms, Kheon Clarke, and Rebecca Kwan) are professionals to the core. And they know how to relax. They share a house, and diverse cultural, ethnic, social, and sexual identities, but 12 people in a single home is a hotbed of romance, rivalry, competition, and daily living that affect everyone. It looks at sexism in aviation, remaining professional under tough odds and interpersonal themes in ways that are inspiring, and entertaining and offer lessons about underserved Canada.
If you’re a gardener at any skill level from zero to hero, there is always more to learn. And Monty Don makes it a pleasure thanks to his fierce skills and pleasant upbeat manner. His series Gardeners’ World on BritBox takes viewers through the seasons showing methods of gardening, always made easy, and innovations to move your game ahead. He says the growing popularity of gardening during the pandemic was a no-brainer – raising one’s own food, getting hands in the soil, in isolation or with helpers, and achieving, glorious results. achievable. Gardeners became a constant in a fluid time; we looked after our gardens, and they looked after us. Study after study has connected gardening to wellness on all levels and trust me, once a gardener, always a gardener. It gives life, metaphorically and physically. In spring Don shows us how to plant canna lilies and in fall, how to put them away inside. Some plant bulbs and tubers need this special treatment but not a lot and the results are worth the extra twenty minutes in spring and fall. He shows in detail how to prune for vigorous regrowth, how to divide plants for multiple new plants, the health benefits of a green canopy, how to reduce noise with greenery, dig-free gardening, and so much more. Follow the Monty Method each season and live your best green life that you can eat, smell, admire and love.
And fans get ready Bake! Sunday night as The Great British Baking Show launches its twelfth season on CBC TV and CBC Gem. Ten episodes, 30 sweet challenges at Down Hall, UK, judged by Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith and hosted by comics Noel Fielding and Matt Lucas as twelve new contestants do their best to avoid disaster (not always successfully) and impress beady-eyed taskmaster Hollywood. Among the first challenges, are rolled sponges, malt loaves, anti-gravity spectaculars, filled brandy snaps, jammy dodgers, and mechanical baked toys.