By Anne Brodie
Sarah Polley begins shooting her latest script Women Talking in Toronto And what a cast she’s assembled! The mighty, mighty Frances McDormand, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Ben Wishaw and our own Sheila McCarthy. Here’s the official logline – “A group of women in an isolated Mennonite religious colony in Bolivia as they struggle to reconcile their faith with a string of sexual assaults committed by the colony’s men.” Blown away by the level of sheer female strength Polley’s assembled and represents. They’ll shoot down by the lakeshore till mid-September.
Clockwise from top left Sheila McCarthy, Jessie Buckley, Sarah Polley, Rooney Mara, Frances McDormand.
The second in the trio of excellent movies about pigs opens today. Last week, we had Gunda, today directed by Michael Sarnoski’s Pig starring Nicholas Cage and a sweet truffle hunting hog who share a cabin in the Oregon bush. Cage is known for choosing eccentric, non-mainstream film roles and this is one, his Jean-Claude Van Damme moment of grace. He is Rob, a threadbare truffle hunter who sells to a swanky kid weekly and never leaves the woods. Amir (Alex Wolff) drives to Rob’s well-hidden location to buy fragrant truffles for his father’s restaurants each week. Can a beautiful edible scent drive a person mad? It seems so as this tense drama unfolds, Cage is forced to leave his woods sanctuary to find his pig after a violent kidnapping. Amir’s a superficial guy, all flash, and poverty shames Rob, but his painful predicament helps Amir see things in new ways. He sees Rob is heartbroken and recognises his strength of character; Amir comes to his senses and joins Rob’s search through Portland’s underground and the unsettling characters he meets. A meal in Amir’s father’s fine dining establishment becomes a dramatic turning point, followed by a visit to his father’s (Adam Arkin) mansion and a tense standoff. Cage’s unshowy, quiet and visceral presence dominates every frame. Rob’s pain and will and history elevate him to a higher plane. A heartbreaking love story as important as any and as mesmerising in which Cage’s saintly loner is a beautiful thing. In theatres.
LeBron James is the focal point of Warner Brothers history lesson/ animated / live-action comedy adventure Space Jam: A New Legacy in theatres July 16. At its heart, it’s the story of a father and son divided by generational and family issues and how they put things back together again. James plays himself, a husband, father and the sports icon who’d like his young son Dom (Cedric Jo) to throw away his phone, get on the court and play basketball. Dom already has his passion – coding – and he’s busy building a game but dad keeps interfering. They get stuck in the Serververse battling each other in an epic computer game, devised by the wily villain Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle), intent on bringing James down. King James rounds up support from the Warner Bros. vault of cartoon characters only partially covered by this list: Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, French Martian, the Harry Potterverse, Robin and Batman, Mad Max, Road Warrior, Mike Myers, Elmer Fudd, Casablanca, Granny, Tweety Bird, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Wile E. Coyote, Roadrunner, Wonder Woman, Lola Bunny, Speedy Gonzalez, name ’em, if its WB, it’s here. And they make up James’ Toon Squad while the evil opposition, the Goon Squad of historic villains leans in to rid the world of James and Co. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee with Ryan Coogler and Maverick Carter, it’s an ultra-noisy, neon-coloured two hours of agita, more noise than I like as I wonder how dated it will look in ten years and if anyone will remember it or reject all memory of it. There’s a good Michael Jordan joke, but A New Legacy is an outsized commercial, a dizzying, gigantic, ballsy, shrill self-referential electronic mess of an algorithm warning. If that’s your thing.
The dark emotional marital thriller Alice stars Emilie Piponnier in a demanding role she nails, a loving mother and wife, who is harried but accomodating and “pure” as her husband François (Martin Swabey) describes her. They and their son Jules (Jules Milo Levy Mackerras) live in a tiny Paris apartment, and they both work. Nice middle-class city folk. Alice’ credit card is declined three times one afternoon, her banker says there is no money in their accounts, her inheritance has gone, they owe $77k Euros and they’re being evicted. She’s stunned as François has said nothing about financial troubles. Alice tears up his office looking for answers; he’s spent a fortune on escorts. He disappears. Her mother says merely “Marriage is hard work”. Alice assures the banker she’ll find money to keep the apartment, and signs on as an escort. Now she’s Sophia, glamourous, successful and in charge, she pays the debts and feels her power. As her new colleague Lisa (Chloé Boreham) says “with love, sex is good, with rape, sex is bad, but what we do, we do as equals.” She’s found her footing just as François returns, teary and guilty. admitting everything but not owning it, and surprised by her newfound self-reliance. Alice rejects convention and may just find joy, even if it means going nuclear. Breathtaking. TVOD July 20.
The magic of nature comes is almost too much to absorb in Jörg Adolph’s documentary The Hidden Life of Trees based on Peter Wohlleben’s best-selling book. He illustrates that trees are capable of thought, communication, and memory. Wohlleben visits crucial tree sites in Germany, Poland, Sweden, and Vancouver to show us how trees live, recreate, nourish themselves and each other and carry on despite nature’s – and man’s – many challenges. Trees are social, they have friends, will feed and support interdependent wounded trees but only get old with help from other trees. Adolph takes us to Sweden to witness a 10k-year-old spruce tree, the oldest tree in the world and how it manages to survive on a dry, wind-whipped mountaintop. He shows how trees defer to one other, sharing space and light. You can see that in any park or home garden. He says they coordinate with one another over hundreds of kilometres when to bloom for the greater chemical good of local ecosystems. They scream for help when in danger and send out chemical compounds to spoil a predator’s feeding. There is so much to be learned in this illuminating crie de coeur. The hard truth is that trees can only grow old surrounded by old trees, to give the earth oxygen, nutrients and energy. But logging and climate change fires have destroyed vital tree masses. This is one of the most astounding nature documentaries I’ve seen in years, still recovering and grateful to live in Canada where arboreal forests are old and beautiful. In theatres and on TVOD in August.
A heartbreaking doc about a troubled and celebrated chef. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain paints an intimate portrait of the late, renowned television food adventurer and personality. He earned the appellation “provocateur” – he had no filter, reverting to strong, expressive Anglo-Saxon language while challenging the status quo. Documentarian Morgan Neville stuck by the firebrand journeying around the world and helped his close friends pick up the pieces following Bourdain’s suicide. It makes for a startling, dramatic documentary opening with a long sequence about Bourdain’s Byronic obsession with his own death. His exhausting high-pitched experience of life ticked off some people and fascinated others, especially his TV and book fans. He had “impeccable manners”, laughed a lot and enjoyed love, travel, food and good company and yet he was depressed and addicted. There’s an extraordinary moment when Bourdain and his crew are sitting around a hotel pool in Beirut when war breaks out. They watch. It makes sense, as big things always seemed to happen to him. A friend says “it was not about food, it was about Tony trying to be a better person” than he was. His wives and girlfriends are spotlighted including his thirty-year romance with his high school sweetheart and his last girlfriend, #MeToo activist and actor Asia Argento. Sadly, Bourdain left behind a daughter. In theatres and on CNN and HBO / HBO Max at a later date.
A rousing change of mood thanks to Apple TV+ musical comedy series Schmigadoon! Lorne Michaels’ spoof on the operetta Brigadoon(and the Lucy-Desi spoof) stars Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key as a couple on a hiking vacation when they stumble across a magical candy-coloured mountain village straight out of a forties Hollywood musical. Each character is a colourful stereotype, problems are solved through song and villagers dance their way to exhaustion for any and all occasions. Six episodes of this ear-piercing, high-pitched tuneful hijinks goes down easy thanks to runaway imagination – Mothers Against the Future, the bridesmaids’ conga, a tribute to corn pudding, gender identity crises, the sly wit that lies beneath surface, the collision of old and new and the feeling that at any moment, reality will cease to exist forever. And the cast – Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ariana DeBose, Fred Armisen, Jaime Camil, Jane Krakowski and Ann Harada. Martin Short is magically delicious as a sputtering bridge troll. That’s some kind of big and bouncy fun!
The delightful coming-of-age teen comedy series Never Have I Ever narrated by none other than John McEnroe returns for its second season on Netflix. From Mindy Kaling and based on her own adolescent experiences as an Indian American and starring Mississauga’s own Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi Vishwakumar Ramakrishnan, it’s a beam of light in young adult programming. The series gives the school-age group of friends a time, place and meaning, and the ability to think for themselves. There aren’t stereotypes, instead, fully drawn individuals thrown together in one of life’s most awkward and challenging periods – high school. Devi has a good problem, she has two boyfriends! There’s longtime crush Paxton with gorgeous hair and mild-mannered devoted Ben. Behind the scenes, Devi’s strategising with her galpals how to hang on to both of them without them learning the truth. Sounds easy, right? Can she make it through the rager with both of them? Then an Indian frenemy shows up and oh, woe, Devi’s mother is moving the family back to India. No! there goes the dream of boyfriend plenitude. Her shrink (Neicy Nash) cautions her that cheating is bad, that “you don’t have two boyfriends, you have zero boyfriends”. Reality check. Ahh, its good to step back in time to those heady innocent days via this superior series.
Way back in 1989, Tom Hanks and great big Dogue de Bordeaux named Hooch starred in the crime comedy Turner & Hooch. This week, the detective character’s son, Scott Turner (Josh Peck) carries on the legacy in the Disney+ series re-up. His assignment with his partner heavily pregnant Jessica (Carra Patterson) is to protect a witness protection client testifying against a vicious gang; the prisoners have escaped. Fortunately, Turner has just had his late father’s large dog dumped on him and while he sees it as a major inconvenience and distraction, turns out his dad trained Hooch to fight crime. The police canine trainer discovers Hooch’s potential and that she’s attracted to Turner. The case heats up, with shootouts and ambushes and Hooch saves the day. Next Turner’s assigned to protect the young daughter of the Head of the Olympic Committee so there’s tea party and danger. There’s an underlying mystery throughline. What case was Turner’s dad working on when he died out on a country road? Cute family fare and an endearing dog.
Hulu’s Original Documentary Series, McCartney 3,2,1 launches today, with six episodes with Paul McCartney and Rick Rubin detailing the ways music culture has evolved since The Beatles revolutionised pop fifty years back. Their intimate conversations are celebratory and revelatory in nature, as McCartney talks about writing his first song at 14, the formation, influence and shock of The Beatles, their breakup, his work with Wings and his decades-long solo career in all its rich history. He’s still got it – his latest album McCartney III topped charts in the UK and North America. He remains a world-class philanthropist promoting animal welfare and environmental causes. Directed by Zachary Heinzerling.
MHz Choice has Sophia Loren playing her own mother in the fact-based feature My House is Full of Mirrors as of July 20. The story of Loren’s rise from a penniless, post-WWII teenager in Pozzuoli, near Naples to become one of the greatest stars of all time is incredible and yet the stars seemed to align for her. Loren plays Romilda Villani, an impoverished beauty who won a Greta Garbo lookalike contest and a trip to MGM in Hollywood. Her strict parents refused to let her go. When her daughter Sophia (Margareth Madè) grew into a beauty and considered acting, Romilda was there every step of the way. Her laser focus on the prize helped them overcome their station in life, and take risks that almost always paid off. Loren was instantly accepted and cherished at Rome’s renowned movie studio complex Cinecitta and earned major money. Romila’s competitive spirit contrasted with Sophia’s sweetness, but together they made things happen. Their journey’s twists and turns as outlined in Sophia’s sister Maria Scicolone’s book are funny, poignant, sad and ultimately triumphant. Vittorio Sindoni’s tender and lively biopic warms the heart. Imagine being Loren acting and speaking the words of her late mother!
Design history fans should not miss Alysa Nahmias’ The New Bauhaus from OpenDox on TVOD. The multi-award-winning portrait of László Moholy-Nagy, a visionary artist and educator who brought the European Bauhaus movement from his native Hungary via Germany to Chicago looks at its use of technology in design continues. It was radical and groundbreaking, left-wing modernism in the ’30s; its principles have never fallen out of favour. Moholy-Nagy was avant-garde in his eye and approach, he was self-taught and used machinery to advance the discipline in both function and beauty, for the betterment of society. He founded the New School of Bauhaus and trained artists in a variety of mediums and believed everyone was talented. Buckminster Fuller was an early supporter. The advertising industry took notice – the Dove soap bar retains the unique look based on his sensory, easy-to-hold sculptures. Another enduring invention, Honeybear the plastic honey jar. The His wife was writing textbooks on media theory and soon the Container Corporation of America was sponsoring their Institute of Design, a think tank for radical ideas. Wonderful archival footage and interviews with Oliver Botar, Barbara Crane and Olafur Eliasson.
Speaking of design, fans are looking forward to the debut of Chip And Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network available now in Canada on Discovery+ and the Magnolia App. It’s a global initiative, broadcasting in 220 countries for a total of 3B potential viewers. Here’s what the Gaines had to say – “At Magnolia Network, we believe in telling life’s stories authentically and empowering our viewers to move past their comfort zones and try new things. We seek to entertain through smart, layered storytelling that inspires creativity, upholds beauty and draws out curiosity. Here, we are creating a space where we hope viewers will feel their time with us is never without purpose, but rather is time well spent”. Major components are food and family.
And finally, The 8th annual Future of Film Showcase is streaming free across Canada on CBC Gem until July 22. Here’s a brief look at what’s on tap for female stories. Wash Day, directed by Kourtney Jackson, focuses on the relationship between three young Black women and the daily politics of negotiating their sense of self. The Best Canadian Short at Hot Docs 2021 Y’a pas d’heure pour les femmes (Ain’t No Time for Women), directed by Sarra El Abed is set in a busy hair salon on the eve of an election in the newly democratized Tunisia. This is a Period Piece, directed by Bruna Arbex, is an absurd comedy that follows a 13-year-old tomboy the night she gets her first period. Parlour Palm, directed by Rebeccah Love, follows a woman as she descends into a climate-change-anxiety fuelled manic episode. Visit www.FOFS.ca for the full short film lineup.