By Anne Brodie
Two orders of Meryl, please. The extraordinarily talented Ms. Streep id dramatic then comic in two wildly divergent films this weekend. First Meryl joins Candice Bergen, Dianne Wiest and Lucas Hedges in Steven Soderbergh’s Let Them All Talk an edgy, intimate wonder about a world-renowned author who invites two university friends to join her on an ocean voyage to England where she will receive an award. As they haven’t seen Alice (Streep) in thirty years, they question her motives. Roberta (Bergen) nurses an old grudge; Alice used her as a character in her bestselling first book. Roberta claims it ruined her life. Susan (Wiest) has a cooler head but was there when it all went down. Alice’s nephew (Hedges) is there to look after everyone and finds his workload is no joke; these are three well-defined ladies! Also along is Alice’ publisher’s assistant (Gemma Chan) to spy on her to discover if she’s writing another book. So, things are fraught; being on board the Queen Mary, even in its luxury, is a tight squeeze. Drinks are had, secrets spilled, important conversations begun and abandoned. They’re all afraid of Alice’s biting tongue. The film is wordy, intellectual and stimulating, a true portrait of rupture and dashed expectations that I could watch again and again, so as not to miss a word. Streep says the dialogue was improvised, Soderbergh told them what to achieve in each scene and they just talked! The actors wore their own clothes and the shoot took just eight days to shoot , the length of the sea voyage a done day in England! Wow. Pros through and through. HBO and HBO Max.
And now we have hilarious Meryl who sings and dances Broadway style in Ryan Murphy’s broad and toe-tapping’ song n’ dance extravaganza The Prom. Streep is Dee Dee Allen, a veteran diva whose new show, Eleanor Roosevelt: The Musical co-starring Nicole Kidman, James Cordon and Andrew Rannells is a bust, closing on opening night. So backstage, boredom and humiliation set in until they read about a lesbian high schooler in Indiana barred from attending the prom because of her sexual preference. Off they go on the bus ride from hell to save the day. No one in Indiana one knows who they are, except the high school principal (Keegan-Michael Key), but people are learning fast that they’re out-of-towners with attitude. Kerry Washington a mother and town official, leads the fight against gayness unaware that her daughter (Sofia Deler) is involved with the barred student (Jo Ellen Pellman). Plenty of insults aimed at Indy and its “rednecks, cow tippers, cousin-loving” population, don’t be gay in Indy, etc. Some ill-judged moments like Cordon’s sudden effeminate turn, the stereotypical Mean Girls subplot, and more. However, the song and dance numbers are fabulous. Meryl gets together with Key, in real life 22 years her junior. How au courante! Netflix.
Drew Barrymore’s sweet charm always shines through the screen; it tends to lift indifferent material. And in Jamie Babbit’s The Stand In Barrymore not only has a dual reason to put her heart – and ours – into it, she also displays twice the talent playing two parts – the heroine and the villain. And she never loses her innate appeal even as she is at odds with “herself”. She’s Candy a former sitcom superstar now on the downward slide; cocaine fueled on set meltdowns have ruined her career, reputation and her own sense of worth. Combined with a tax beef, she’s in deep doodoo. Candy’s ordered into rehab but decides that sending her TV stand in Paula to take her place is a good idea. She’ll hide out in her massive Long Island mansion where she hopes to detox from the industry and who she has become. She’s also developing a healthy online relationship with a carpenter, when Paula shows up. She insinuates herself into Candy’s life, then takes it over, abdicating responsibility altogether – and makeup and basic dress sense. She has the pandemic look ( without makeup she looks a lot like her famous forebear, John Barrymore). And Paula is relentless, taking everything Candy has. Barrymore shows the breadth of her talent in this extended dual role, one of which challenges our image of the star. I love the quiet tension, the ebb and flow of the power struggle, Barrymore’s committed portrayal of two opposing characters and the contemporary spin on the ages old story of downfall and rebirth. VOD.
I’m Your Woman, Amazon Prime Video’s woman-in-peril handwringer stars Rachel Brosnahan is Jean, a dead faced suburban housewife who is well aware of her husband’s underworld activities. He’s away a lot, but he’s good to her, provides well for her (this is the 70s) and when she miscarries and is rendered infertile, he brings her a baby, no explanation. One day, a man she doesn’t know flies into the house tells her to pack, grab the kid and he drives her away; it takes moments. She can’t go back; he says but here’s a few K$ to see you through. Cal (Arinzé Kene) has been sent to keep them safe as they travel from motel to flophouse and finally an unfurnished house. Her journey to anonymity is a cruel one; she’s low on maternal instinct and frozen in terror, the thugs find her again and again demanding to know where her husband is. Cal always gets her out of harm’s way, leaving death and destruction behind them. So many close calls and moments of horror, until Cal takes her a country cabin. A family is already there they’re wise to it all. She asks if this is all real. I’m Your Woman is gripping and hyper stimulating and surprising, story wise and as a hell of a segue for Brosnahan from Mrs. Maisel to this traumatised character. A major adrenaline boost for the holiday season, directed and co-written by Julia Hart.
Also on Amazon Prime, an intriguing new series The Wilds has a lot to chew on, how young women adapt to extreme change, learn to survive with nothing First World, and to what lengths organisations and governments and research organisations will go to carry out agendas. It’s a Young Adult offering, but it doesn’t limit its scope to a certain age or mentality, it has broad interest and throws a fuel on danger conspiracies. Its fiction of course, but mistrust and mortal danger are part of the language in the T**** era and this seems like a valid result. Two official seeming men question a girl about a recent traumatic event. She says she and a planeload of young women, off to a feminist retreat in the South Pacific, crash landed in the ocean. One does. The rest are able to make it an uninhabited island but without luggage, food, water or tech. It takes a while to realise the full impact of their plight as they’re preoccupied with sizing one another up. They set up an unforgiving social hierarchy is established as soon as they reach shore. A few chocolate and forged tidbits keep them alive. Was it a hallucination or did they see a male server in formal wear bring food? The devolution begins with arguments, alliances and breaks, a la Lord of the Flies. The men question other survivors in flash forwards as we watch the disintegration on the island and learn that it wasn’t so bad because “Being a normal girl in America, that was the real living hell”. Let the social commentary fly, ladies! And who are these men?
HBO and HBO Max look back at one of the most influential pop bands in history. The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart features the sole survivor Barry Gibb and interviews Nick Jonas, Justin Timberlake, Noel Gallagher, Chris Martin, Eric Clapton, Lulu, and Mark Ronson. Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb formed the vocal trio in the 1960’s wrote 1000 songs, earned twenty #1 hits and were globally adored for decades. Archival footage spanning the early days to the big successes to the tragedies that befell them, it’s a nostalgic walk to the sound of those oh so familiar and distinct harmonies. As in “To Love Somebody”, “Massachusetts”, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”, “Jive Talkin’” ,“Nights on Broadway” and “You Should be Dancing”, “More Than a Woman,” “How Deep is Your Love,” “If I Can’t Have You,” “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive”. Disco helped kill them in the 80s, so they wrote songs for Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and Celine Dion and other, generally big hits. among many others. Brothers Maurice in 2003 and Robin died in respectively 2003 and 2012. They made their ark and struck a blow for brothers working together successfully (Everly Brothers, Oasis, anyone?)
76 DAYS, one of the toughest films to watch on recent memory traces the earliest days of COVID 19 inside a Wuhan China hospital from lockdown January 23rd until it was lifted April 28th. New York filmmaker Hao Wu and two China-based journalists Weixi Chen and Anonymous takes us to the frontlines of the war on this new disease that apparently germinated in the city of 11M. Hospital beds are full while the sick clamour to get in, elderly are locked in their wards, staff deals with emotional and physical strains of caring for the deathly ill patients, families of the deceased, as a woman gives birth to a baby she is unable to see for weeks. The filmmakers had deep access to patient rooms, operating tables, hallways and streets, the horrors of emotion and exhaustion, and the sad job of delivering personal effects to the family of those who passed. This is strong stuff, especially since COVID continues to spike around the world. For God’s sake people, wear your masks. Follow their example. Latest stats reveal total cases, 50,340, recovered, 46,471 and deaths in Wuhan 3,869 and this is from a total 11M. Well done. VOD.
The ground-breaking film production body the National Film Board of Canada, now in its 81st year and known as the NFB offers new titles for free streaming at NFB.ca. It is highlighting The Curve, a collection of projects exploring the pandemic, and other docs that will add new dimensions to your viewing experience.
Welcome to Pine Point by The Goggles is an interactive doc about losing one’s job, when an entire town disappears due to massive job loss. Pine Point was such a place when Paul Shoebridge and Michael Simons (a.k.a. The Goggles) visited with their cameras to find the place frozen in time.
Daughter of the Crater by Nadine Beaudet and Danic Champoux on Yolande Simard Perrault’s quest for identity and her influence Pierre Perrault, her partner and love. This grande dame is the “daughter of the crater” born in Quebec’s Charlevoix millions of years ago. Yolande discusses her life and the “impact” of the site.
As the Crow Flies by Tess Girard looks at a group of 17-year-old girls, members of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets as they go to an elite flight-training camp. Its a real life coming of age story about them, told with affection and empathy.
The End of Certainties by Jean-Daniel Lafond. Go behind the scenes of the International Economic Forum of the Americas, for first-hand testimonials by two dozen influential men and women as they assess globalization, pros and cons and look to a new and inclusive humanism.
The Curve from NFB creators looks at COVID-19 in the following films:
As Night Descends by Nadine Gomez
Road’s End Chronicle by Nicolas Paquet
Sometimes I Wish I Was on a Desert Island by Eli Jean Tahchi
Jules’ Impossible Summer by Marie-Julie Dallaire
The Vigil by Christine Chevarie-Lessard
Contact – Requiem for a Word by Olivier D. Asselin
Sòl by Valérie Bah and Tatiana Zinga Botao
Starting December 15 at 9 p.m. (EST) is the world premiere of Borealis, broadcast on TVO and and simultaneously launched for free streaming on www.NFB.ca and www.TVO.org. Kevin McMahon immerses himself inside the boreal forest to explore the life there and the realities of our iconic wilderness. It strives to answer the question of how trees move, communicate and survive the destructive forces of fire, insects, and human encroachment. Live and learn people.