By Anne Brodie
The biggest news to hit the entertainment world this week is the launch of Star on Disney+, an adult-oriented streaming service with a massive library of films and TV shows and series, including the Searchlight library, a slate of Star originals, new European content, and Hulu and FX original content.
It’s streaming for grown-ups whose tastes run outside Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar and National Geographic on Disney+ and content is easily childproofed by age range. This year’s awards behemoth Nomadland, in select GTA theatres on March 19, will launch in theatres across Canada and on Star on April 9th.
Lee Isaac Chung’s exquisite Minari follows a Korean-American family buying a farm in the Arkansas Ozarks to attain that ever-elusive American Dream, hard work, success, acceptance and stability. Superb performances by the cast (Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Youn Yuh-jung) take the sweet, sad and at times shimmering piece to new places. Obstacles are managed, and there are plenty, historic, personal, and in the turmoil of breaking into a new community and life, driven by a strong work ethic and unshakable hope, always with love for one another. Grandmother Soon-ja, a caustic but funny and loving presence leads a strong female cohort, arriving on the scene as a disrupter while, while Yeun’s Jacob’s common sense instincts and understanding of nature point to his wisdom. The family’s palpable sense of unity and love, helps them understand the place they’ve come to in an ensemble piece to end all ensemble pieces. Every character is important and heard, with a particular focus on the children enjoying childhood and watching the adults do their thing, knowing how much they are loved. Stream at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.
More awards fodder online now at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox, Another Round, Ammonite, Dear Comrades, Falling, Identifying Features, Martin Eden, My Little Sister, The Nest, Possessor Uncut, Preparations To Be Together For An Unknown Period Of Time, Proxima, ROCKS, Sound of Metal, Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue, Two of Us, The Walrus and the Whistleblower, You Will Die at Twenty.
Andra Day is thrillingly gritty, real and complex as the iconic music great and political activist Billie Holiday. Her song “Strange Fruit” an arresting jazz lament over racist lynchings, “human rights violations” of Black people put her in the sights of law enforcement; she was forbidden to perform the song, but carried on, drawing attention to anti-Black racism and the high cost paid by Blacks since their arrival as slaves 400 years ago. Lee Daniel’s hard-hitting bio The United States vs. Billie Holiday details the ways the US government sought to destroy her and her influence on matters of racial injustice, and sweep her under the carpet. To add salt to the wound a Black federal narcotics agent played by Trevante Rhodes infiltrates her circle and begins an affair with his target. He’d been told to go after that “bitch” or she’d incite a riot. Holiday was vulnerable, dealing with serious drug addiction and remnants of a difficult upbringing. Hoover had her performer’s licence removed, he called Strange Fruit “UnAmerican” but she triumphed in a mixed audience show at Carnegie Hall to a standing ovation. She was too admired. Agents planted drugs on her in their relentless pursuit. It’s an important, dispiriting story, but Day’s delivery of this legendary figure is phenomenal. Daniel’s signature florid touch is ever-present, but Day’s grounded, real presence tones it down. TVOD. Marcgh 2.
R.J. Cutler’s must-see documentary Bille Eilish: the World’s a Little Blurry, stars the music phenom whose distinctive, remarkable music won a whopping six Grammys and a Juno in her first outing, at just 18. Eilish’s incredible jet into world consciousness occurred when she released Ocean Eyes online independently and hit. We think we know a lot about her, through annual Vanity Fair interviews but Cutler shows us her ill-fated romance with Que, her struggle with tics, depression and anxiety, and severe leg problems brought on by energetic dancing on stage. A loving family surrounds her, she hasn’t fallen prey to drugs and debauchery, and she is still a child in many ways. She never attended school, focuses on her music with brother Finneas, and responds with love to her fans. She’s young to be so wealthy and famous, and no one says no to her. I covered music for 26 years and saw many rises and falls and I hope she comes out unscathed. Her joyous, open nature will be a big help, as will her devoted parents and brother. Terrific lighter moments as when she meets Katy Perry and husband Orlando Bloom and has no idea who he is .. for a moment, and a sweet response from her beloved crush Justin Bieber. All shot writing, recording, releasing and touring her debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?”. On AppleTV+.
Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley and Benedict Cumberbatch lead The Mauritanian a tense legal and political fact-based thriller set in the U.S. military’s Guantanamo Bay detention center. A Mauritanian Al Qaeda member, Salahi (Tahar Rahim) is held without charges for years in the infamous Cuban holding facility. Defence attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and her associate Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) take on his case, horrified that the U.S. is carrying out illegal detentions. They begin a long battle to free him, unearthing new evidence. Cumberbatch’s military prosecutor, Lt. Colonel Stuart conscience rears up at the legal and human abuses against Salahi and his fellow prisoners, 700 of them. Was he a recruiter for the 9/11 mission? He hasn’t been charged, and there is no evidence against him. He’s interrogated 18 hours a day but he has never let on that she speaks English. The U.S. pushes back at every request, refusing to hand over files until the team sues and breaking moral, legal and international laws including torture. He confesses to everything to make it stop and goes inside himself for small freedoms like imagining the swaying palm trees at home. An incredible, disturbing 14-year journey, based on Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s bestselling memoir Guantanamo Diary. Directed by Kevin McDonald. Apple TV+.
Cherry stars Tom Holland, the latest British actor to tackle a Deep South southerner. He plays a soldier returning from war to face his biggest challenge, survival. It’s a pitiful story, set in the US poverty belt, and looks at the way life treats vets. The Russo Brothers’ radical study of the pressures of being an American man is a tough go, but Holland’s performance is worth it. Cherry is dirt-poor, aimlessness and into low-level criminality. He falls in love, on sight, with Emily, played by Ciara Bravo. They marry on the eve of his first tour of Iraq as a medic in training, happy images soon overwhelmed by the horrors he sees on the battlefield. He’s abused by officers, witnesses the torture and deaths of his compatriots and locals, and carries helplessness against the US army’s bullying invader tactics. Understandably Cherry falls victim to PTSD and on his return home, addiction. He draws Emily into the heroin scene and they are unable to cop. NO money for food, no plan, just drugs. Cherry pulls off a string of bank robberies, seemingly unable to weigh the impact of his deeds. Distinct chapters have wildly differing looks and feel, separate universes strung together by Cherry’s fluid, ungrounded presence. The Russos’ style flourishes are extraordinary – cinematography, sound, aspect, colour palette, music, and while it’s entertaining it grinds us down as he’s ground down. In select theatres Feb 26 and on Apple TV+, March 12.
Emerald Fennell’s sharp revenge thriller and awards topper Promising Young Woman is a stunning and polarising film. Carey Mulligan’s game-changing performance as Cassie a rape victim and self-styled anti-male warrior is breathtakingly visceral. She’s out to ruin sexual predators and has no qualms about setting them up. Late night in a bar, Cassie’s passed out drunk, legs akimbo, vulnerable and without a phone, purse or means of protecting herself. A group of young men immediately swoops in. One (Adam Brody) offers to take care of her; he leads her to his place where he attempts to assault her. Cassie immediately stands up. She’s not drunk. She’s sober as a judge and she’s passing sentence. Her double life, pouring coffees for customers by day and exacting revenge by night has changed her. Her parents see a personality change and hope she can “find a man”. Cassie stares down workers eyeing her, hyper attuned to toxic male attention. Bo Burnham plays a customer who gets to know her. He seems safe and true, and she goes out with him but he too crosses the line. Cassie is the warrior destroyer who makes things right for all women, and as on point as it is, it’s exciting, satisfying and out there. Promising Young Woman, from the people who brought us Killing Eve, is #MeToo at the tipping point. This is what misogyny can do to a person, individually, in institutions and in daily life. Something just has to give. The film has 165 nominations. On Digital March 2 and BLU-RAYTM and DVD March 16.
You haven’t really lived till you’ve seen the wacky British comedy talk show 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. Now available on BritBox with nine episodes for nine lives. It’s a comedy panel special combining UK comedians and “anarchic” regulars paying homage to learned nuttiness, a challenging brainy words-and-number game hosted by Jimmy Carr, with team captains Sean Lock and Jon Richardson, with Rachel Riley and Susie Dent on math and dictionary duty. Watch the general freak-out when one of the panellists brings out her emotional support tarantula, impassioned conversations about wicker forests lost to loggers, inflatable legs, nose cheese, a Tension Round achieved through pyrotechnics, the contestant lost inside the couch, the loser who says none of it matters and the host’s ribbon dance. Come on! Here’s a greatest moments reel:
The Croods: A New Age finds the world’s first family, Ugga Crood and the brood, in need of a new home. out they go and voila – a walled-in garden paradise that perfectly meets their needs. Except The Bettermans live there, “emphasis on ‘better’ “, and they are a competitive bunch. Soon the Croods and Bettermans are locked in a rivalry unseen before on earth. The Bettermans think they’re more evolved and the Croods must rethink their entire lives. Directed by Joel Crawford and starring Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, Kelly Marie Tran, Kelly Tran and the late, great Cloris Leachman. On TVOD.