By Anne Brodie
Writer-director Ruben Östlund is back in his favourite place – the hotel. Bedrooms, dining rooms, common thoroughfares with balustrades, and a vibe of impermanence and mild dread as he looks through keyholes at couples not quite in tune. They struggle with the politics of their relationships, kind of in love but itching to test and confront. Triangle of Sadness – wait’ll you hear what the title means – follows a pair of models, Carl and Yaya (Harris Dickinson and the late Charlbi Dean), whose strained union hits a snag in a dining room, lifting the lids off a bucket of resentments. They’re invited on a luxury cruise with interesting, uber-wealthy characters, some shady; the rich folk try to impress the models with their wealth and throw their weight around with staff while pretending they aren’t. Östlund’s sarcasm cuts deep, no one is spared. A portentous fly buzzes loudly, foreshadowing an intrusion of nature. The Captain’s Dinner – Woody Harrelson – is a disaster; the place becomes a Roman vomitorium. And then, still together for some reason, Carl and Yaya are castaways, stranded on an island with survivors with fortunes and zero survival skills. Except for one, and these people were not very nice to her. Sly, funny, provocative, and a little disgusting, Triangle has a lot going for it, even as it hurls itself over the top. There are some great WTF moments, as when non-important people are kicked out of front-row seats for a fashion show, as the cutesy aphorism “Everyone’s Equal” is emblazoned across the stage. Östlund’s satire of people without their status markers trapped in paradise, their bad natures, incompetence, and disaster as comeuppance is a hoot. At TIFF Bell Lightbox and select theatres.
Lena Dunham’s playful and fresh period romcom Catherine Called Birdy is like nothing we’ve seen before, a triumph of innovation and imagination. Dunham tells the tale of a 13th-century fourteen-year-old Birdy (Bella Ramsey) whose father Lord Rollo (Andrew Scott) is desperate to sell her off to a rich suitor so he can climb out of debt. That’s the way they did things in Europe then, bringing money, territory, and allies together through marriage. Marriage had nothing to do with love. But Birdy is a thoroughly 21st-century gal. She’s independent, a free thinker, a staunch feminist, who questions, then breaks the rules, which is why she’s always in trouble. Even so, Birdy is beloved because she’s so interesting. She manages to dissuade the Suitor from Kent (Russell Brand), John of Normandy, the Elder and Younger Fulks, and others through various means – she’s in love with her handsome Uncle George (Joe Alwyn), “the crows adore George”. Her mother Lady Aislinn (Billie Piper) had a string of stillbirths but a new pregnancy helps shape Birdy’s outcome in the auctioning off of her future. Birdy endures menstruation, “ridiculous” boys, her father’s hand-strapping, and stupidity but really goes off when she’s promised to “the vile” Sir John Henry Murgaw known as Shaggy Beard (Paul Kaye), a person you can tell just by looking that he smells bad. But how to escape his clutches? and her father’s? But what strikes most is Dunham’s apparent knowledge and appreciation of Medieval Britain, her nimble script and skewed whimsy seem an odd fantasy for an urban American pop culture heroine. But there it is and it’s fantastic. Based on Karen Cushman’s book. Prime Video now.
The three-part documentary series House Of Hammer by Elli Hakami and Julian P. Hobbsnow streaming on Discovery+ is sure to curl your hair. Back in 2020 Armie Hammer, a descendant of the onetime richest man in the world, philanthropist, friend to royalty, and Occidental Petroleum boss Armand Hammer, was a big star. He’d nailed the Winklevoss twins on The Social Network and a sensitive role in the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name. A year later he was toast. Women began to come forward reporting their experiences with him, abuses including being tied, hung, bound, gagged, smothered, and raped with a side of his stated desire to eat their flesh. He openly texted multiple women he’d dated or seen on social media, who appear in this doc, who realised they were being groomed to be sex slaves, because he told them so, but stayed in the relationships. They examine the reasons while describing how vile things got. Hammer’s aunt Casey Hammer was not surprised by the revelations; she wrote a family expose called Surviving My Birthright, describing a generational legacy of violence, abuse, drugs, and murder. Armand Hammer’s family immigrated from Communist Russia and he named himself after the Russian symbol of might, the Arm and Hammer. He was a member of the Communist party – and well, you’ll hear more. The family dynamic of violence and submission was passed down through his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild, Armie. The complete story is complex and too horrific to repeat here, but as per usual, money goes a long way to protect people. Google Armie’s whereabouts now.
Grandmotherly Toronto nurse and birth control activist Sue Johanson brought nitty gritty sex realities right into our homes in 1996; spoke the truth, never judged her caller’s situations, and had vast knowledge of bodies, sex toys, fetishism, you name it, she knows sex. Her daughter Jane Johanson and filmmaker Lisa Rideout’s doc Sex with Sue, on W Network Oct.10 lovingly remember Sue’s contributions to young people’s sexual health, as the founder of Canada’s first-ever high school birth control clinic at Don Mills Collegiate, and later on to all of North America via Oprah’s Oxygen Network. Johanson’s sense of humour, easy manner and open mind shocked first-timers as mainstream advice on how to perform sexual acts to please your partner and yourself was simply non-existent. Her age was a real plus in getting the message across – by the time she demonstrated to an auditorium of high schoolers that, she was qualified, her warmth and humour had won them over. We follow Sue through the first day on air, growing local popularity, the AIDS crisis, and the resultant growing fetish community, late-night appearances with David Letterman, Conan O’Brian, and daytime with Ellen. Sue noticed questions from American listeners displayed a lack of basic sex information, vibrators were illegal in Alabama, and abortion and birth control, forget it. Sue retired in 2005 leaving behind an admirable legacy, and the spirit of her message is more important than ever considering increasingly conservative social and political realities. Well done, Sue. We love you.
Mila Kunis goes for broke in Mike Barker’s Luckiest Girl Alive based on Jessica Knoll’s novel about a woman whose violent high school traumas disrupted her life. Born Tiffany, she has reinvented herself as Ani, a successful writer for a leading women’s magazine, living the good life with her handsome fiance (Finn Wittrock) making money and in demand professionally. She’s haunted by a horrific sexual assault and school shooting and her pent-up rage is bubbling up as she prepares to marry. Ani can be extremely cruel and abusive, but we know where it’s coming from. Others don’t. A documentary filmmaker covering the school shooting and her rumoured part in it is key. She takes out her anxiety on her befuddled mother (Connie Britton) and her fiance who just doesn’t get it. He hasn’t listened to what she’s told him, like everyone else and she hasn’t fully dealt with those ordeals. Ani is not a sympathetic character, she lies, loses her temper, and is blunt. But we understand the scope of the wrongs dealt to her. Kunis plays the difficult role convincingly; this Gothic revenge piece could have gone too far but Kunis shows restraint. Pleased to say, Alexandra Beaton, What She Said founder Kate Wheeler’s daughter, plays Tiffany’s best friend during a crucial time in her young life. Shot in Toronto with a shout-out to TIFF. Netflix.
Like you and countless others, my boss Candace Sampson and I faithfully followed The Lincoln Project on Twitter leading up to Joe Biden’s election and Donald Trump’s loss. And the org may have played a part in T’s demise. The Lincoln Project is a group of high-ranking ex-Republicans whose purpose is to keep him out of office, recognizing that he is unfit for office and a danger to democracy. They produced chilling TV and online commercials revealing T for what he is, based on insider information, breathtakingly extensive analytics, and in personal knowledge. They set up a giant billboard in Times Square, serving up a heapin’ helpin’ of T’s own inflammatory – against him. George Conway, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Rick Wilson, Jennifer Horn, Ron Steslow, Reed Galen, and Mike Madrid formed the project, and celebrities have given money, their voices and skills – Rob Reiner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Harrison Ford, Sam Elliott, Judd Apatow, Mark Hamill, Martin Sheen and John Legend among them. However, cracks appear in the pressure cooker as we watch in horror – money, credit, and burnout to blame. The Showtime documentary series is on TVOD to subscribers. @ProjectLincoln. Directed by Karim Amer and former actor Fisher Stevens.
30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer appears to have looked around at the way things are these days and figured children – and grown-ups- needed to experience more positivity. So he co-created, executive produced and stars in Hello, Jack! The Kindness Show, now in its second season on Apple TV+. It’s just what it sounds like, spotlighting kindnesses extended by children. They become “Kindness Ambassadors”, and McBrayer asks them about caring for others by baking, making greeting cards, making people laugh, and like Scarlett, rescuing animals. The show is radically different because it dares to be childlike while delivering a powerful message about becoming our better angels. Episodes are short but McBrayer also leads a longer special, a song-and-dance musical kindness mystery, in which someone is doing anonymous good deeds in the village. But who? Jack and the diverse citizens set out to solve the mystery. It’s good stuff. McBrayer looks to the examples set by Mr. Rogers and hopes to re-up his positivity
Paths of Glory, Stanley Kubrick’s disturbing 1957 examination of depraved wartime morality couldn’t be more timely. Set in France in 1914 during the First World War, it could be any war led by ambitious officers who decide who lives and who dies. French leaders are frustrated that the men can’t capture The Anthill, a German stronghold close to the French but separated by insurmountable obstacles, a deep tench, gnarled growth, barbed wire and, revealed by the sudden light of an explosion, a sea of bodies of French soldiers. Gen. Mireau (George Macready) and Gen. George Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) residing in a luxurious mansion near the site summon Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas) from the trenches where soldiers are under constant shelling. The Generals order Dax to take the anthill the next day; he says it’s not possible, it would be certain death. They say with sang froid they expect half his men will be killed. Horrified, Dax leads his men on the mission with the expected results. Military law in France states that if a group of people is guilty, a lottery will choose one for symbolic punishment. In this case, battalion leaders choose three for execution on charges of cowardice. There is no rhyme or reason to it. Kubrick’s scathing fact-based morality tale studies amorality, treachery, barbarism, favouritism and ego that feed those who sit in marble halls behind fine old desks deciding while soldiers, fighting for France, will live no longer. Paths of Glory, now beautifully restored and available on Kino Lorber (4KUHD), is a sharp shock, a revelation about a free world member with a recent past of barbarism. The film was banned in France for 18 years.