By Anne Brodie
Canadian Indigenous filmmaker Danis Goulet’s Night Raiders, executive produced by Taika Waititi could not have come at a more poignant time. Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Brooklyn Letexier-Hart are Niska and Waseese, mother and daughter living in the bush. Society and government are in shambles and children are being rounded up and stolen from their families to be placed in The Academy. There they will be brainwashed, stripped of their identity and become soldiers and other assets to the government, its property. After six years in hiding, they’re spotted by drones and forced to flee to the occupied city where Waseese is stolen. Niska joins a secret group of indigenous vigilantes who take back their children at great risk as Waseese is in growing danger of drinking the Kool-Aid. Niska meets with other desperate mothers and joins a vigilante group. The horrors of stolen indigenous children, the Canadian residential school system, and mass unmarked graves has come close to home this year and the unthinkable notion that the government and church kidnapped, mistreated and killed untold numbers of children for more than a hundred years is at the root of the story. It’s an intense experience, a sci-fi thriller that enters mythology in a beautiful way. In theatres now and Night Raiders opens this year’s hybrid edition of ImagiNATIVE Film Festival on Oct 19.
Another scene of desperate times, Old Henry, set in the grasslands of the Wild West, circa 1920 as a simple farmer named Henry – Tim Blake Nelson in a stunning performance – and his son Wyatt played by Gavin Lewis live an isolated, hardscrabble life. They live off the land far from the nearest town and have no help nearby. Henry’s working in the fields when a riderless horse appears. He looks closely and finds blood on the saddle, and sets out to find the rider. He finds an unconscious man whos been shot, so he brings him and a satchel of cash next to him, back to the homestead. Henry and Wyatt care for the man who behaves mysteriously, and a posse of armed lawmen led by a brute (Stephen Dorf) arrive and demand the satchel. Henry chases them off with unexpected bravery. The second time the posse shows up, they mean business and will kill for the money. The injured man tells Henry they aren’t lawmen and he knows Henry has his satchel. The ways writer-director Potsy Ponciroli places us in this dangerous and beautiful, unspoiled place, where hanged men sway in the breeze, the grass waves and death comes calling are inventive and fresh carried by Nelson’s superb performance and an intriguing twist on history. Henry has a secret, and wow, what a secret! Drop everything and find Old Henry on TVOD. Also stars Scott Haze and country music singer Trace Adkins.
And now a charming and provocative musical about life from 27 points of view, told in rhyme. Summertime now on AppleTV/ iTunes and TVOD on Oct. 12 is a delight. Carlos López Estrada directs this spoken word poetry musical set in Los Angeles, over the course of a single day. We follow 27 youth poets on their quotidian journeys, navigating their worlds with them and listening to them express their secrets and dreams. Miraculously, towards the end, they find themselves together riding around the city in a neon-lit long limo. The film was borne out of a summer workshop for youth poets, each performing their own material and seamlessly interlocking. The diversity of the poets and their struggles and hopes, the intersections into one another’s lives is breathtaking. Gender, sex, music, therapy, food, parents, best friends, lovers and singles break over the shores of this day when anything can happen. An emotional flashmob at a burger joint, the LA skyline at night, seen from high up, the feelings and words and humanity of these kids is strong. What an experience!
Ashley Zukerman stars in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol the origins series for the Robert Langdon mysteries Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. Langdon is a young professor of ancient symbology at Harvard who stumbles into a complex mystery that he must solve in order to save humanity. The story sets the vibe for the earlier books and like them takes place over a short period of time. His mentor, a high degree Mason and Head of the Smithsonian Institution, invites him to speak at the Capitol; his mentor isn’t there. He’s been kidnapped by Mal’akh, a Mason, who wants secret documents Langdon’s carrying. The CIA involves itself in Langdon’s mission to find the Masons’ Pyramid to prevent him from moving forward, but he and his colleagues find a mysterious portal in the Capitol. It leads to a chamber where clues are provided; his special skills are all that lies between us and ancient powers destroying the world. It’s a complex story with a mathematical bent, that symbols, signs and algorithms have life and can do damage. And someone has to figure it out – fast! Begins on Showcase and Stack TV Oct 11.
Dr. Anthony Fauci a hero, a pioneer and lightning rod, has performed urgent pubic service as an infectious disease specialist, the longest-serving public health leader in Washington, D.C., under seven presidents. For forty years he has led the charge against pandemics HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola and now COVID-19. The documentary Fauci, now on Disney+ shines a light on his accomplishments and the man himself – his knowledge and experience, honesty and integrity. He kept his cool working under Donald Trump who was not just lacking in understanding of COVID- but was openly hostile to Fauci’s efforts to stem the pandemic. Now eighty, he looks back on his first major medical and personal challenge, finding treatments for AIDS. He was a lightning rod then for saving gays in America’s rigidly conventional society. Gays were angry with him, as the face of the race for a cure, for not working fast enough. He reached out to the gay community to become an ally. Today Fauci’s up against Trump’s MAGA crowd that refuses to mask and vax, but he has plenty of fighting spirit to encourage compliance while retaining his good humour and dignity. Former President George W. Bush, Bill Gates, Bono, former national security advisor Susan Rice, National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden, journalists, key AIDS activists and Fauci’s family appear in the doc, directed by John Hoffman and Janet Tobias.
At the feel bad end of the spectrum is Netflix‘s Maid starring Margaret Qualley, a homeless single mother Alex escaping abuse, down on her luck and yet determined to keep on. Despite problematic status with the welfare system, a free-flying mother (Andie McDowall) who won’t stand by her, and endangers her daughter Maddie through negligence, how does Alex keep going? She’s a cleaner now, working hard for the wealthy taking punishingly long commutes by bus to get to the jobs, thereby losing much of her pay and time and risking her daughter’s welfare under her mother’s care. Desperate stuff, lightened by Alex’ offbeat, bitter humour and POV, that almost lifts the anxiety and bad luck. Based on Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. Times are very tough and uncertain these days and this is a message in a bottle that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
After that, you may need to tune in to Hulu‘s Baker’s Dozen a baking competition to increase your happy hormones. Hosts Tamera Mowry-Housley (the twin from Sister, Sister) and White House chef under the Bushes and Obamas Bill Yosses merrily lead the way through eight episodes of determined bakers who give their all for a shot at the Golden Rolling Pin. Each episode serves up a different cast of bakers, 13 of course, a Baker’s Dozen, who battle three sweet rounds. Find out how to make a geometric tart, a macaron tower, a breakfast dessert, a dessert mashup, breads, and oh, they look so delicious. Hulu’s series focuses on the artistry – and taste of course, but they have scoured the land thoroughly for true and visionary artists, who let their imaginations soar on all challenges. I like its fast pace, the true sense of intimacy the producers have created and the really nice folks who come to play. It’s actually elegant.
Oh, my aching sides! Muppets Haunted Mansion on Disney + now is heaps of fun. Plenty of fun for the kids but best fun for adults who will be treated to loads of sly pop culture, political and musical notes, film references and a crazy cast of characters including … wait for it … Danny Trejo! as well as Chrissy Metz, the late Ed Asner, Taraji P. Henson, Darren Criss, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alfonso Ribiero and Pat Sajak. Pepe the Prawn and Gonzo accept a challenge to spend Halloween night in an imposing Victorian Gothic mansion, the most haunted house in the world, in hopes of surviving. Their limo driver tells them she drops off lots of guests but never picks them up. Will Arnett is their Ghost Host and he has scary challenges to test their fright levels. Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest are there but in alternate personas – scary ones! Director Kirk R. Thatcher knows how to create a good belly laugh and fright. Memento Mori, kids.
Let the cliches begin! Adam Salky’s Intrusion on Netflix follows a Woman in Peril as she and her Mentally Abusive Husband move into an architectural marvel of his design on the desert outskirts of Corrales, New Mexico. It’s stunning to look at, a monument to modernist machismo jutting up out of the desert (make that the ocean in Sleeping with the Enemy, an earlier WiPMEH outing) isolated and strangely unsecured. Freida Pinto and Logan Marshall-Green are young marrieds, she walks on eggshells due to his temper and he lovebombs her in a strangely artificial manner; we know he’s faking it. One night their home is invaded by masked intruders (no security) and he kills all but one, and he’s in intensive care. Pinto’s pretty convincing as a WiP, measuring her moves and living two lives, one real, one tailored to his temper, and we empathise. He’s another story, which leads her to investigate what he’s thinking, to follow his movements and explore his private office, knowing he might walk in any moment (Undercurrent). She’s right of course, there’s something at work, so she moves fast (Silence of the Lambs). Pinto’s doing more than her share while Marshal-Green seems lethargic, bursting into flashy temper from time to time. This is a familiar, shopworn story but Pinto works it as best she can.
Speaking of movie clichés, Netflix balances the scales with Attack of the Hollywood Cliché a highly entertaining “one-off” look at the dozens of bare-faced movie tropes we’ve endured as a society over the past 100 plus years. Rob Lowe, once a cliché himself, hosts the special with a wink and a nod. He knows the extent of cliche outrage we feel so often staring at the screen hoping for better, and the inevitable letdown. Interviews with filmmakers, critics, journalists, academics and a bevy of stars – Andie Macdowell, Andrew Garfield, Florence Pugh, Mark Strong and Richard E. Grant – detail the egregious lazy shortcuts in which directors and writers indulge themselves, no feelings are spared. They cover the history of film cliches from the beginning of the flickers. I felt really engaged and made a list of all the cliches they mention, which I’ll spare you, but here are a few. The Ticking Time Bomb, Meet-Cute, Running from Monsters in Stilettos, Wilhelm Scream, Paris as cliche, Baguette Sticking out of a Grocery Bag, Apple Eating, One Man Army, Spit Take, Car Chase, White Saviour, the Magical Negro, You Killed My Father, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Montages to Get to the End Faster, Animals with a Sixth Sense, Tech Fails, Angry Desk Sweep, Cultured Villains, the Final Girl (Jamie Leigh Curtis), Cut the Red or Blue Wire, Kissing in Bad Weather, Love Conquers All, Basking in Glory. Ok, that’s almost all of them. Strangely they left out Running Upstairs in a Horror Film, which gives me hope that they’ll make another “one-off”.
Paramount Celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the release of the landmark silent film epic The Sheik with a newly restored Blu-Ray. Twenty-six-year-old Rudolph Valentino played Ahmed Ben Hassan, a brooding Arabian sheik who falls in love with Lady Diana Mayo, a free-thinking modern English woman whom he kidnaps – they fall in love. Valentino became an overnight sex symbol and tabloid fodder. Born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella in Italy, he struck it big in this, his 27th Hollywood film. Little did his swooning fans around the world know that he loved only two women, his wives Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova, and loved domestic life. That intense brooding stare? He couldn’t see and refused to wear glasses. But what a face! The camera loved him. Weeping throngs attended his funeral when he died at age 31. The Sheik Blu-Ray features film historian and professor Leslie Midkiff DeBauche on Desert Heat: 100 Years with The Sheik, a music score by Roger Bellon, a look at Valentino the heartthrob and more. Available Nov. 2.