By Anne Brodie
TIFF Bell Lightbox celebrates Sarah Polley and Other Stories with a Cinemateque Spotlight programme Dec 3 – 17. All of Polley’s films will be shown with three others, handpicked and introduced by Polley, including favourites Orlando (more on Tilda Swinton below) and Dog Day Afternoon. Polley will participate in a live Q&A following the screening of her ultra-personal family 2012 documentary feature Stories We Tell. Mark your calendars for Dec 9 and buy tickets here. https://tiff.net/membership
Polley’s latest film, the challenging and profoundly moving Women Talking begins a limited run at Lightbox on Dec. 23. Polley and author Miriam Toews will be in conversation following an exclusive, member-only screening on Dec 7. The fact-based story of a group of Mennonite women discussing whether to ignore, stay and fight or leave their colony for sexual crimes against them is utterly harrowing. I’ve seen it, it is brilliant and it will take a little time to absorb and recover. Toews’ book is inspired by her experiences as once part of the community.
South Korea’s stunning espionage thriller Hunt according to the filmmakers is “based on actual events in history, (but) the story itself is a work of fiction in its entirety.” The political situation between North and South Korea is a special and fraught one, and Hunt covers events in 1983 during the Fifth Republic dictatorship. Protesters in Washington DC are calling for the death of SK President Chun Doo-hwan (the anti-democratic Butcher of Gwangju) while his representatives try to contain the damage and arrest participants. Back home, 3000 citizens are murdered in ten days on Chun’s orders. Squid Game’s Lee Jung-jae directs and plays SK Chief Park Pyong-ho, who with arch-enemy Chief Kim (Jung Woo-sung) must search for codename Donglim, a North Korean mole in the ranks of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA). He has leaked info about a plot to assassinate the president; if they don’t find Donglim, they will be executed as spies. They are also assigned to investigate each other’s units, underlining Chun’s paranoia. Internecine battles play out in nerve-shredding, surprising scenarios, often ending with wholesale murders – nothing is off the table, and nothing predictable. The shock value of endless twists is extraordinarily high, as masks are lifted and murder, torture, and terrorism only edge things towards total disaster. And there is the nuclear problem. Steel yourselves for a bumpy ride, it is well worth the bruises. Dec 2 in Toronto (TIFF Bell Lightbox & digital Bell Lightbox), Vancouver (Vancity) and Ottawa (Mayfair).
It’s a misreading to call The Eternal Daughter a ghost story and then complain that it’s not a ghost story and it’s not scary. Joanna Hogg’s remarkable, unique drama is a study of a woman haunted not by ghosts but by her very own existence. Tilda Swinton is spectacular as usual in a dual role as mother Rosalind and daughter Julie. The two have come to a Scottish stately home cum hotel, where we learn, Rosalind spent time as a child – it was her aunt’s home. Julie’s a filmmaker who hopes to begin a new script during their mother-daughter getaway and celebrate Rosalind’s birthday. Louis the devoted and utterly adorable dog turns out to be a capable thespian, sleeping, running, cuddling, and doing what such a dog would do under these circumstances. Julie is unable to sleep, her nerves are shot and she bursts into tears often. Rosalind recounts memories of being there when she was little, not all of them good; she doesn’t explain but Julie picks up on unspoken horrors. A rude receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davies) and an amiable guest services manager (Joseph Mydell) are the only others we meet. Cousin Adrian shows up, and Rosalind tells Julie to get rid of him. She does but accepts the bouquet he brought as they appear to have a loaded conversation; we don’t hear it because we are spying on them too far away. Swinton’s shimmering, emotionally charged performances are truer than true, cutting to the heart and soul and we are devastated, particularly when we learn what is really going on. Nothing happens and everything happens. This is genius. All hail Swinton, who else could have pulled this off? In Theaters next week – a heads up – Dec. 9
There’s a lot to unpack in writer-director Noah Baumbach’s saga White Noise, a satirical and dark portrait of an American family that veers from huge to tiny at random, listening in as the characters run through their justification of reasons to think or do things, or not and then being blasted out of their wordy complacence. The intimacy of the family home erupts into full-screen chaos following a nearby explosion and the resulting toxic cloud dad Jack (Adam Driver) promises will never reach them. Ha. And the shock of discovering that mom Babbette (Greta Gerwig) is secretly pounding down experimental pills. And then there’s the whole world-ending thing. Noah Baumbach’s vivid imagination and perhaps nightmares are on full display for us to feel things constantly without a breather, like sitting in a wagon pulled by a dozen dancing donkeys. It’s acrobatic and mercurial and kind of exhausting at times but it’s also funny, sharp, and truthful concerning the human condition and the things that get dumped on us unsuspecting mortals crammed into a frame. I didn’t read White Noise by Don DeLillo so maybe I’m at a disadvantage. The actors are game for anything and 110% living and breathing the chaos. Awesome music by Danny Elfman and co-starring the always intriguing Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Lars Eidinger, Andre Benjamin (!) and British force of nature Jodie Turner-Smith. In theatres now and on Netflix Dec 30
Amazon Canada Studios has a winner in its Scandi-noir, Fargo-esque crime series Three Pines, set in a small close-knit community in Quebec’s beautiful Eastern Townships. The series is an anthology of four two-episode stories, set in the same place with the same villagers and outsiders. Quebec’s own Midsummer, or Cabot Cove, Three Pines, and a neighbouring reservation that teem with generational undercurrents. Indigenous issues are front and centre including the residential school turned mansion owned by the first murder victim, CC, a local activist, artist and gallery owner Tantoo Cardinal, and the local Book Club that knows everything about everyone. Plenty of opportunity for drama. Exec prod Alfred Molina stars as Chief Investigator in CC’s murder, whose team (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Rossif Sutherland and Sarah Booth) is given the cold shoulder. The community challenges Tailfeathers, a First Nations woman’s choice to work for law enforcement, the historic enemy of indigenous people. CC’s brutal murder has no end of suspects, she was deeply disliked by everyone, including her husband and daughter. Her lover, a photographer, provides images of her murder as he was shooting the curling match CC was watching when through snow, ice, a heater, and metal spikes, she is electrocuted in plain sight. Who hated her this much? Does her home, the former residential school factor? The second mystery takes us right inside the CC’s empty home where investigators are presented with endless shocks and discoveries, current and past. Its horrific history seems to have “polluted the town with evil” admits a resident. And we get deeper into the growing mystery of a young single mother beloved by her family and devoted to her baby, who goes missing, well out of character. A photo taken of her at a party in Brooklyn NY appears to be a mock-up. So many snakes and ladders reveal the byzantine underbelly of Three Pines. and it is so well made, and authentic, it feels natural and real, and considers spiritual, mystical matters and nature itself. Directors Sam Donovan, Mohawk Tracey Deer, and Daniel Grou know what they are doing in this intelligent, gripping and remarkable series. On Prime Video now. Three Pines is made in Canada and by Canadians and soon the whole world will know how awesome that is.
Robert Downey, Jr. follows his father, simply known as Sr., with a camera, for his loving tribute documentary. Sr. Robert Downey Sr. is highly regarded by people who actually know his work as a writer and director of 60s and 70s counter-culture, comedies like The Sweet Smell of Sex, Chafed Elbows, Babo 73, Two Tons of Turquoise and Greasers Palace in which a young boy’s throat is slit and he’s brought back to life. The iconoclastic Putney Swope even got a wide release. Then there’s Pound, humans playing pigs in a pen with just an hour to live and in which Jr. made his film debut at age five. Jr. is makes the doc with director Chris Smith because, regarding his adored father, “we don’t know the hour and day”. Over the course of shooting, he feels Sr. slipping away, so he and his children spend time with him in person and digitally, imprinting him on the kids. He and his dad have a lot in common, they’re both whip-smart, and charismatic, talented, artistic and they were both addicts and film creatives. And according to Sr. both are narcissists. Downey’s rapidly changing emotional reactions are right here on display, authentic, and heartbreaking as Sr.’s decline takes hold. The black and white photography takes things down to the bare essentials – those feelings shared between father and son; they don’t hold back and it will get you. Brilliantly and subtly made, Sr. tells all of our stories of life and death, family, and enduring love and loss. Two great minds, two great artists showing us what it is like for them. Take your tissues. On Netflix.
One of D.H Lawrence’s most scandalous novels, the classic once-banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover has been given new life for modern audiences in a sensual adaptation. This is the seventh film iteration inspired by the book, directed by Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and starring Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell as the Lady and the gamekeeper. The early 20th-century England timeframe stands with intricate attention to wardrobe and set design, so it’s an eyeful. Connie/Lady marries a well-born man in a fit of passion; he leaves for WWI service the next day and returns later without the use of his legs. She cares for him but finds the spark has died due to his careless treatment of her, his rudeness, and his domineering chauvinism. He won’t allow her freedom and now that he’s injured, refuses to hire a caregiver forcing her to stay by his side; it’s hard physical work. He’s unable to give her a child and suggests she have one by someone else “but yield nothing else”. Her feelings for him now verge on loathing and out walking in the estate woods, her only reprieve, she meets Oliver. He’s an ex-lieutenant and now the estate gamekeeper. She’s starved for affection and connection and seduces him and visits him regularly in his cottage. We follow their erotic adventures as they become less careful, romping in the fields naked, and occasionally being seen together. Her clueless, self-centred husband is blind or willfully ignores his thoughtless cruelty. She becomes pregnant and risks everything to live the life she desires. Lots of sex scenes, lots of them, acres of flesh. Pretty to look at, and modern for its time, maybe not ours, Lady Chatterley’s Lover redux does the job with perhaps too many close-ups but it’s a satisfying period piece. On Netflix.
Renuka Jeyapalan’s Toronto-centric romdram Stay the Night stars Kim’s Convenience’ Andrea Bang as Grace, an almost-manager-maybe-in-a-year in a large downtown business. She’s not getting the job she wants, told she isn’t outgoing enough, and too standoffish to woo clients. Grace promises she will be more open but no dice. Not far away in downtown, NHL star Carter, played by Joe Scarpellino learns he’s fired and off to the minor leagues in Syracuse. He also tries unsuccessfully to pull it out of the fire. So two dejected kids walk into a bar … and find themselves in his luxe, all-expenses-paid hotel room. Grace has no idea who he is and he doesn’t mind. They talk and begin to have sex but she pulls away because she’s a 27-year-old virgin with issues. He’s fine with it and asks why. She isn’t the confessional type and literally runs into the night. He follows her and they walk and talk and soul search. Carter’s straight from Central Casting, with his good looks, respect, and kindness. Then he pivots from her almost one-night stand to a therapist and later in a social setting, her love coach, encouraging her to go after a guy she likes. So what is going on? People have their own stories and we are always surprising one another, so it’s the dance and attempts to unlearn the habits of a lifetime. Jeyapalan’s affection for the King Front Bathurst area is loud and proud; there’s a Niagara Street sign. We know exactly where we are. Grace’s “home” address is 27 Crawford St – that’s pretty specific. Grace and Carter hit endless familiar bars, restos, stores, and the island airport in this tiny bustling village within the city. TVOD.
Yannick Bisson executive produces, stars in, and directs a filmed Christmas confection called Baking All Way. You’d hardly recognise him considering the visual impact he’s made as Det. William Murdoch in the mega-popular and enduring Murdoch Mysteries. No, he plays widowed small-town baker Kris (as in Kringle) Thompson; his fulsome hair blows in the wind, he wears plaid and an apron, and he’s worried because a chic franchise bakery opened across the street has stolen his customers, despite his excellent products. Meanwhile, in the big city, chef and cookbook author Julia Wilson, played by Cory Lee, a familiar face from seasonal holiday romance movies, needs one final recipe to complete her soon-to-be-published new book. She needs a gingerbread that tastes like her late mother’s. She’s a perfectionist so it has to be that needle in a haystack; so far research and fan submissions have come up empty. But a mysterious basket of gingerbread comes in the mail, and it’s That Taste. She drives off to a tiny burg to meet the man who makes the treats, and it’s like at first sight. They embark on a working relationship that verges on romantic and then … it’s sweet but formulaic which hardly matters considering baked goods. Colin Mochrie is Julia’s hilarious B and B owner, with Mochrie’s wife Deb McGrath as his wife, she’s fun too! Jayne Eastwood another comic legend plays his mother and boom, they’re off. One night only in theatres, Dec 5, and preems Dec 10 on Super Channel Heart &Home.
The Great American Baking Show: Celebrity Holiday now on the Roku Channel finds Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith, scary/amiable judges of The Great British Baking Show in the colonies. The USA that is. They are judge and jury for the US edition’s Holiday competition special with “celebrities” as the cooks, some with zero baking experience, well most. Hosts Ellie Kemper and Zach Cherry keep the bakers merry as they scramble to create special holiday-themed bakes on orders of Paul and Pru. There’s a cream puff in the shape of a holiday character, a Yule log and a surprise to be made, on the clock. I hadn’t heard of all the celebrities but no matter. They are Chloe Fineman, Nat Faxon, D’Arcy Carden, Joel Kim Booster, Liza Koshy and NFLer Marshawn Lynch. I’m pretty sure Prue has a crush on the fast-talking uber charming mountain of a man. Here’s a surprise. Booster, who has never baked ANYTHING, got a handshake from Hollywood for his first-evers, cream puffs. See? Baking can’t be all that hard. Settle in and enjoy yet another in the landmark Great Baking Show series,