By Anne Brodie
Because Clement Virgo’s family drama Brother is so beautifully made, and the performers give their all, it is an exquisitely painful, provocative experience and cuts deep. Marsha (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and her sons Michael (Lamar Johnson) and Francis (Aaron Pierre) live in a housing project in Scarborough where mistrust and violence are common. Hostile white, armed police patrol the place constantly. The boys’ father is long gone, and they know very little about him. Their mother who works gruelling shifts has raised them well, they are considerate and respectful and she can trust them to be alone while she works. Michael is interested in his studies and has a literary bent while Francis works in a barbershop. Life isn’t as well-ordered on the outside; armed gangs and shootings are realities. The Scarborough skyline gets in on the act, as does the familiar line of hydroelectric power transmitters the boys climb as Francis tests Michael’s bravery. Time shifts reveal the boys and mom in happier times. The future lets them down – Marsha’s debilitating cognitive problems, Francis’ dashed hip-hop dreams and Michael’s interrupted education are painful. Michael looks after his mother while his friend, neighbour, and sometime lover Aisha (Kiana Madeira) travels the world as a tech wizard. Virgo creates a profound reality for them and paints a pretty picture with muted lighting, rich colour, and familiar details of the 1980s and 1990s – including a clip from Master T on MuchMusic. The heavy limitations of poverty missed opportunities and dashed hopes are staggering and Brother becomes an elegy. Adapted for the screen by Virgo from David Chariandy’s prize-winning novel Brother. In theatres including TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The extraordinary Riceboy Sleeps by Korean-Canadian filmmaker Anthony Shim, voted Rogers’ Best Canadian Film by the Toronto Film Critics Association, won TIFF’s Platform Award, and has proven to be a darling of the international film festival circuit. It’s finally opening today in select theatres across Canada and at TIFF Bell Lightbox on March 24. Do yourself a favour and see this poignant, heart-rending, but tough story of Korean immigrants living in suburban Canada. Choi Seung-yoon plays widow So-Young, a factor worker; she’s constantly worried about her vulnerable young son Dong-Hyun (Dohyun Noel Hwang) facing racism for the first time in the classroom. Years later we meet Dong-Hyun somewhat hardened high schooler by now with bleached hair, a love of weed, and less overtly loving to his mother. He’s accepted into a group of friends but he’s still victimised in the classroom; he swings at the perp and is suspended, to his mother’s horror. To his horror, she’s seeing a man (filmmaker Shim) he doesn’t like and distances himself from her. She’s seeing Simon for his sake, it turns out. Mother and son return to Korea, but we’re not told why or who they will see. It’s a revelation, healing and sets a tragic stage. The film’s power is in its subtlety and spare style, we aren’t so much watching mother and son as living inside them, a phenomenal achievement. The performances are heartbreakingly raw – Choi Seung-yoon was named a TIFF Rising Star, and a Share Her Journey Fellow and she won Best Actress at the Marrakech International Film Festival. Both actors playing Dong are wonderful. Deeply rewarding.
Directors Michael LeBlanc and Joshua Reichmann, writers Tenzin Choeky, iNorbu Dhundup, and Tenzin Kelsang, and actors Kelsang, Tenzin Choekyi, and Salden Kunga take on a major international political cultural story of oppression, resistance, and tragedy in Tenzin. A Toronto man called Tenzin is in psychological distress. His peace activist brother died setting himself on fire to protest China’s occupation of Tibet, a traumatizing event Tenzin rewatches online. They try to cope – his father through prayer and mediation and Tenzin through drugs, drinking, sex, and rebellion. His father reminds him to be present, and that his brother died “for all of us, for you” – and the Tibetan community pays touching tribute to him and the martyrs who fight for Tibet’s freedom. Tenzin finds work as a trucker but there’s another kind of oppression – a gang that controls the territory he’s working; he’s told to get out or face dire consequences. He leaves but later returns, perhaps thinking of his brother – who he imagines is in his room – to demand fair treatment – and be a hero like him. He’s severely beaten. We see Tenzin’s girlfriend we see in dreamy memory; she dies of an overdose, and she too appears to him and his brother; his life swings from reality to dreams and hallucinations – is he possessed? A friend reminds him there is no regret in letting go. Tenzin describes the experience of trauma viscerally, and plainly, and how oppression has cursed the world throughout human history, via a confused young man. Wrenching. In theatres.
“Ithaka” is an unrhymed poem of five stanzas that employ conversational, everyday language. The narrator, probably a man who has travelled a lot, addresses either Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, or an imaginary modern traveller or reader”. Filmmaker Ben Lawrence and John Shipton’s wrenching documentary Ithaka follows their exhaustive global odyssey to free Shipton’s son Wikileaks founder and current inmate at London’s brutal HMP Belmarsh prison, Julian Assange. It’s an issue that beggars the mind – the free world grants freedom of the press but Assange may serve up to 175 years in prison for leaking materials given to him by Chelsea Manning, proving US war crimes in Iraq. The US is trying to extradite Assange to the US, the land of the free, to face trial. A study has found that the release of the video of American soldiers firing on and killing men in the street, including a Reuters journalist, didn’t cause any person harm after its release. Assange’s lawyer and wife Stella Moris is a fighter – the movement to free Assange has attracted millions of supporters and global organisations but it’s a long battle. The UK okayed the US request for extradition but Assange is appealing even as he suffers mentally, emotionally and physically. He’s in solitary confinement and suicidal but is allowed phone calls to Stella and their two children; she watches him deteriorate. Shipton who has little regard for the media has spent years campaigning on his son’s behalf and it’s clearly taken a toll on him. This is the heartbreaking human, and emotional cost of being the most important, symbolic political prisoner in the world. At Hot Docs Film Festival starting March 19 – March 26th. Book tickets now.
The Boston Strangler killed 13 single women between the ages of 19 and 85 in Massachusetts between 1963 and 1964. Albert DeSalvo was arrested, convicted, and stabbed to death in prison – that’s what we think happened. But Boston Strangler on Disney+ posits there is much more to the story. In ’63 police were getting nowhere with their investigations; women in the city were terrified but the Commissioner did nothing to reassure them. Local lifestyle columnist and mother of three Loretta McLaughlin discovered a link between the first three murders, managed to scale a steep wall of misogyny to cover the case, blocked by police at every turn. Veteran crime reporter Jean Cole and she partnered and supported one another. Keira Knightley and Carrie Coon as Loretta and June are knee-deep in patriarchy; they were not taken seriously even as they continued to find new evidence through witness and grudging police interviews. Their success rubbed officials the wrong way but they kept at it, travelling to Ann Arbor, Michigan to investigate an early murder matching the Strangler’s MO. A New York police official contacted them to say he had a similar murder but Boston Police wasn’t talking. The permutations of this case are mind-boggling, and DeSalvo lawyer F. Lee Bailey’s wicked scheme is revealed. The film is well-written and respectful, sober, and important and reveals a horrific real-life twist. Top-notch direction and acting. Disney+.
All sane people suffer from climate change anxiety and no wonder. Since Rachel Carson sounded the environmental alarm in her 1962 book Silent Spring, we’ve known how humans have purposefully chipped away at our planet’s integrity for money and modernism. Apple TV+ gathered impressive stars to remind us yet again, that we have become our own worst enemies. The eco drama series Extrapolations, starring Meryl Streep, Sienna Miller, Kit Harington, Daveed Diggs, Edward Norton, Diane Lane, Yara Shahidi, Matthew Rhys, Gemma Chan, David Schwimmer, Keri Russell, Adarsh Gourav, Indira Varma, Marion Cotillard, Forest Whitaker, and more, takes us through the future to see if we will help ourselves or not. We follow characters and stories in the years 2037, 2046, 2047, 2059, 2077, and 2070. Businessmen plunder our resources at a whiplash rate, protesters are quashed, climate conferences amount to nothing and there is profit to be made from melting glaciers. Rhys plays a sociopathic businessman planning to build skyscrapers on Greenland’s fragile lands once the glaciers disappear. China wants to dig underneath and extract minerals. Breathtaking denial of the obvious, that the planet is on fire (fire is seen outside most windows), winds, storms, destructive sea waves, the works, it’s on. Earth’s demise. Summer heart a new disease means a person can die from being outdoors. Cities are dense with smoke. Deceased people and the thousands of animal species lost can be re-upped with DNA and tech. Once Earth’s temperature climbs 2 degrees, it lights out, forever. At once fascinating and terrifying, this is a clarion call to action and the stuff of nightmares. Sneak peeks at future tech are incredible. Last year Phoenix, Arizona, overexpansion created a superheated airmass and lost 400 residents died including a young homeless man in a parking lot – no one would let him indoors. It was 60C degrees.
The intriguing cast in the TVOD offering Supercell from writer-director Herbert James Winterstern and impressive special effects may be worthwhile, but as a film, it just doesn’t hold together. The late Anne Heche, Alec Baldwin, Skeet Ulrich, and newcomers Daniel Diemer and Jordan Kristine Seamón are caught up in the risk-loving, storm-chasing world. It’s set in West Texas’ wide open plains, the brunt of frequent supercharged weather. Young William Brody is well aware of his late father Bill’s legendary status as a storm chaser; when his uncle (Ulrtich) sends him his father’s handwritten manual of formulas, electronic setups, etc, William leaves home without a word to find his uncle and experience first hand what killed his father. Heche’ Quinn, who chased storms with Bill – for knowledge, not thrills -is devastated, and fears he may meet the same fate. It’s a family story set against the wrath of Mother Nature. Baldwin’s Zane now owns Bill’s storm tourism business and thinks nothing of risking customers’ lives to experience the things he loves – extreme peril and money. several major storms blast through, and the visuals are superb. But the story falls flat as it seems hastily edited; many ideas, themes, actions, and dialogue are incomplete so there’s a lot of guesswork for the viewer. On the plus, there’s plenty to learn about supercells and chasers, a unique, fear-averse bunch. IMDb states Supercell is “one of the last projects actress Heche had worked on before her passing on August 8th, 2022. (Her final movie) 13 Minutes, also had to do with tornadic weather.”
Jeff Lemire’s new limited drama series Essex County set in rural southwestern Ontario but shot in North Bay looks at the complicated relationships in a scattered and damaged family. It’s moody and dark and aims to set itself in the same Ontario Gothic of the 2007 series Durham County (York County next?) and before that Scandi-noir series like Wallander. Molly Parker leads the cast as Anne, the nurse and functioning centre of the family, with Stephen McHattie as her alcoholic uncle Lou whose mental state calls for guardianship that he rejects. Young Lester, soulfully played by young Finlay Wojtak-Hissong, has just lost his mother, Anne’s sister, to cancer, is badly bullied at school and blamed, and lives with his remote uncle Ken (Brian J. Smith) who leads a secret life. Lester idealises the father Jimmy (Kevin Durand) he’s never met, a former hockey star, and finds him in a nearby town. They meet in secret; Anne has told him to stay away. Jimmy seems sketchy to us, but not to naive and hopeful Lester. Meanwhile, Molly’s estranged partner Doug (Rossif Sutherland) is fooling around with Joy (Tamara Podemski) and she confronts Joy. There’s plenty to chew on with the family’s dirty laundry, grief, hopes, and need for reconciliation. Five episodes are based on Lemire’s graphic novel. Starts Sunday at 9 on CBC and CBC Gem.