By Anne Brodie
Elvis, Baz Lurhman’s 2-hour and 39-minute hallucination fable comes at you like shot from a pellet gun, blasting from one nerve point to the next in rapid, head-spinning succession, bouncing from style to style, plot point to end-it-all motifs to tight closeups of Austin Butler’s sensuous Elvis-like lips to pensive Elvis to runaway hips Elvis to mama’s boy Elvis. Butler transforms himself from teen TV hero to smokin’ sexpot with rubber joints, eyes blackened with mascara and black shadow completely comfortable in an era in music about which he likely knew nothing. Tom Hanks is a tubby, accented Col. Tom Parker, the shadowy controlling figure behind the King and disappears into him. Lurhman’s vivid imagination runs wild like a brawl and the result is memorable and exciting if not what you might call deep; it’s a bit too whiz-bang, too full of itself and its mischievous glories to be taken seriously or through which to learn about Elvis Presley. Its sensuality is fun and laid on thick, Parker is an intriguingly perplexing person, and Lurhman obviously put his heart and hormones into making Elvis, but relax, Baz! A strong point is its revival of political, and music history, although some headline news stories seem pasted on and the culture wars of the ’50s and early ’60s. The roots of rock roll are shown through later iterations of soul, R & B, and revival sounds, “negro” music dating back at least to the beginning of the 20th century. Artists like Big Mama Thornton, B.B.King, Little Richard, and the magnificent Sister Rosetta Tharpe, acts the Rolling Stones and endless British Invasion bands copied and covered. Elvis has its weaknesses but you won’t be bored. In theatres.
We’ve waited so long for The Man from Toronto, the mistaken identity assassination comedy starring Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson and at last, it’s here. Shot in Heart Lake, Milton, Brampton, Toronto, and Atlanta, we have an attachment to it. Hart is a simple man, unable to get any of his gym-related businesses off the ground, like his latest, contactless boxing. He’s going to make up for missing his wife’s birthdays this time with a weekend cabin getaway with a basket of champagne, cheese, and Ace Bakery bread. He prints off the address but his toner’s low and it’s blurry, so he goes to the wrong cabin and witnesses a man being tortured. The thugs think he’s the Man from Toronto an international assassin and step aside for him to extract information the hard way. Meanwhile, Harrelson the real Man from Toronto is at home eating durian when he’s called on a $2M job and presto finds and takes fake Man from Toronto hostage. Impossible to precis here but Hart and Harrelson embark on a spree that takes them inside a military personnel carrier, to Puerto Rico, Chicago, Venezuela, and Washington D.C. where they face Venezuelan villains set to do harm at the opening of the new embassy. But the fun is following Hart whose wonderful tweaks on reality and droll lines make this movie a winner, a showcase for his comic agility. He takes the ordinary and skews it through the Hart machine to turn out relatable, on-point lines. It’s surprisingly without swears, I guess for younger audiences driving all the comic gymnastics, with “hart”, warmth, and everyman appeal. A good time! Netflix.
Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat’s Official Competition puts ego-driven film stars under the microscope and the result is brilliantly, uncomfortably, and scathingly funny and real. Penélope Cruz is Lola the exacting director who fears no man, especially her pampered cast Antonio Banderas as Félix, a Hollywood star, and Oscar Martìnez as Ivàn an admired, classically trained actor. Another ego drives the project, a billionaire who wants to polish his image before he dies by producing an iconic film. Director and actors rehearse in a glass space looking over the Spanish countryside, inside, oppressive doors and passageways where the three will vie for dominance using every trick in the book. Lola puts them to bizarre tests like crushing their acting awards in some sort of awards grinder and revelling in telling them how wrong they are. The men are guilty of egregious acts of sabotage fitting for the film called Rivalry. Tension’s nicely drawn out with satire and amusement from the men’s fragility, her authoritarianism, and the many ways of blasting rivals out of the water. It’s a joy, it’s brainy and oh-so-human. Official Competition could be in official competition this coming awards season. In theatres.
Inuit filmmaker Nyla Innuksuk’s genre-busting Slash/Back is probably the sweetest film of its kind, a variation on the Little Women theme, set in remote Pangnirtung, Nunavut or Pang as the kids call it with feminist, warrior teens and a touch of horror. The monsters are based on “mythical” stories Innuksuk heard as a child growing up in the Nunavut vivid enough to inspire this wonderful piece. A group of pre-teen pals Maika (Tasiana Shirley), Jesse (Alexis Vincent-Wolfe), Leena (Chelsea Pruksy), and Uki (Nalajoss Ellsworth) spend their time babysitting, biking around, gossiping, crushing on boys, and being grounded. Maika has hunting and fishing skills and can hit a distant target with a rifle, useful in the vastness of the area. Uki the rebel teases the others and goofs around; when she returns from a bike ride in the open country she tells of a monstrous being that morphs a polar bear into a bloodthirsty zombie. No one believes her. Soon enough evidence arrives in the form of a racist local white cop, zombified and coming for them at the community center. The girls arm themselves with hunting and fishing weaponry, cleverly adapted to zombie killing; that night they are left alone while the adults are at the annual Solstice Dance. Little do they know the kids are battling to save themselves, their village, and perhaps humanity (while still finding time to argue about which boys they like). The kids raised with computers live their Inuit culture while speaking the patois of a Toronto street, and experience growing pains and the abiding salvation of love and community. Don’t miss this promising and endearing first feature. In theatres in Toronto (Fox), Vancouver (Vancity), Ottawa (ByTowne), Winnipeg (Cinematheque), Saskatoon (Broadway), Edmonton (Metro), and on TVOD on June 24.
Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez’s sophisticated character-driven comedy series Only Murders In The Building just keeps getting better. It may be the smartest, most satisfying “sitcom” since Seinfeld. Veteran comic actors Short and Martin are as expected, veteran comic geniuses and Gomez, (Oliver, Charles, and Mabel) carries herself well with the formidable duo. This season. a ghastly new murder. Aronia President Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), a stickler for rules who does not get along with the threesome is found dead, Mabel’s knitting needle through her heart, in Mabel’s apartment. Once again, they are under suspicion. All good for their podcast which now has a serious rival in Tina Fey’s mob of three. Sting’s vacated the building with his rainsticks and Amy Schumer moves in. She’s a sassy number and disrupter who is keen to buy rights to their podcast but do we trust her? Our heroes break into Bunny’s beautiful Regency/Chinoiserie apartment looking for clues to her murder and find a Rose Cooper erotic painting, valued at $1M which may or may not feature Charles’ father, and may or may not be a clue. There’s a secret elevator in her closet through which they can nab it. Meanwhile, Mabel’s drawings of suspects are pretty good and gallery owner Alice (Cara Delevingne) wants to display them. We get to know the dreaded Bunny, in the days leading up to her demise, her kindness, her family connection to the Arconia, and her beloved parrot. And then, a MAJOR star appears and she wants the painting. Glory be! June 28 exclusively on Disney+ under the Star banner in Canada. Subscribers can set access limits on mature content and create PIN-protected profiles, alongside the already existing Kid Profiles, to give parents and guardians peace of mind.
Restaurant kitchens haven’t been given the comedy exposure they deserve so bring on the FX Original The Bear on ‘ Hulu! It’s another world requiring, skills, passion, drive and a certain athleticism, and tolerance for frenetic activity serving the almighty customer. Carmen Berzatto played by Jeremy Allen White, is a brilliant young chef from the fine-dining world of Michelin star restaurants who inherits his family’s decades-old sandwich shop – the Original Beef of Chicagoland – when his brother dies. He returns to the cramped dirty kitchen he left behind years ago to begin a new life, far from the ordered, refinement of the world he occupied. So why did he give that up to make sandwiches? Carmy’s confronted by his angry verbally abusive cousin who ran the place, and workers unimpressed by his awards who attempt to derail his improvement campaign. And then there is the question of his brother’s death. The Bear, the creature of his nightmares, reminds him how tough life is and that he is at risk but he chooses to battle it. A wonderfully lively cast of characters elbowing one another for cooking space balances his angst and optimism with their sass and soon enough, come around to him, charmed by his food and passion. Honestly, a frantically paced comedy series of people crammed into a hot, smoky, oily place every day for long hours? Bring it. Co-stars Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Lionel Boyce, Liza Colón-Zayas, and New Brunswick producer, writer, actor, food stylist, and chef Matty Matheson.
The HBO Original documentary film Endangered, produced and directed by Oscar-nominees Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing and executive produced by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow highlights an alarming trend sweeping the globe. The media is a historically and legally protected entity that informs citizens under freedom of the press laws, about what elected officials are doing. It’s a growing trend in democracies including the United States, Brazil, and Mexico where filmmakers shot extensive footage and powerful interviews. These countries appear to have taken the Trump playbook and seized power voters did not expect, buoyed by fervent fan bases. Reporters Sáshenka, Patrícia, Oliver, and Carl experience abuses and obstacles to their work by thuggish fan bases, while officials call for an end to the media. That way they’d be free to do whatever they wished and remain unaccountable. The Committee to Protect Journalists is refocussing its efforts from rogue states to the USA as the culture wars daily attempt to destroy the status quo. Media outlets especially newspapers are closing down, reporters aren’t being paid, and the will isn’t there to keep the public informed. And that way lies demagoguery. The brave reporters the filmmakers follow worry for their own safety and their families, but charge on, determined to help keep democracy alive. It’s an eye-opener, it gnaws at our sense of justice yet there are moments of great inspiration. Crave.
Director Sean Cisterna’s documentary The Long Rider opens the book on an ancient horseman’s tradition of the Long Ride. People who have made journeys of over one thousand miles on horseback are part of an exclusive club, (including Charles Darwin, Oscar Wilde, and Marco Polo) a tradition that goes back millennia. Meet Filipe Masetti Leite, born in Brazil but raised in Calgary as he sets out to ride his horse, (or multiples) from Calgary to his parent’s ranch in Brazil through umpteen borders and the gamut of extreme weather conditions from blazing heat and no water to frozen snowstorms with just one blanket. His sacrifices – and the horses – to make the dream a reality are staggering. Often dispirited and in tears, and joyous and loving his choice, it’s a maelstrom of extreme obstacles, pain, joy, and mystery, as they wind their way down south. He survived and immediately set out on a trip from Alaska to Calgary in his ride of the Americas. He certainly has the stuff to do this dangerous thing; he had a sick and injured horse, depression, and drank too much, but he persisted. It’s clear he loves the horses and they him, but that treacherous trip could have ended in death and danger for any or all of them. From time to time I had to look away. Leite served as Marshall of the Calgary Stampede and will serve as a celebrity judge at this year’s parade. In theatres.
Maya Rudolph’s Molly, the third richest woman in the world in Apple TV+ feel-good comedy series Loot. She got her $87B the old-fashioned way, in a divorce settlement. Adam Scott plays her tech mogul husband of twenty years and he’s brought his mistress along to Molly’s splashy birthday party (their home is an architectural marvel), blindsiding her. She reads him the riot act in front of the guests and poof! so what to do with all that cash? Molly’s sheltered and used to the good things in life but realises it’s a lonely and shallow one. Turns out she now owns a charity organisation dedicated to at-risk youth in LA and decides to work at the office out of curiosity but finds herself engaging with the charity’s mission and staffers. The boss Sofia (Michaela Jaé (MJ) Rodriguez) doesn’t take her seriously – who would? and eventually, Molly proves she’s more than her image. Speaking of image, a couple of disasters bring the wrong kind of attention to the charity including a deadly Ferris wheel at a theme park she didn’t know she owned in the Philippines for one. Staffers guide her along and she rewards them with private jet trips here and there; they need more fun, she says. Her personal assistant (Joel Kim Booster), a charismatic guy who turns out to be a cousin (Ron Funches), and a low-key single accountant (Nat Faxon) are her lifelines and she quickly becomes the staff’s mama bear. Hilarious scenarios of work and play, growing comradeship, and Molly’s gradual recognition of who she really is, and dropping the artifice of her former life make for a charming, engaging three hours.
Prime Video‘s limited series psychological thriller Chloe follows the machinations of a dangerous social media-obsessed psychopath in Bristol, England. Erin Doherty is Becky, and she has multiple scams in play regarding her identity, status, job, and character. She cleverly forces her way into a new social circle of well-off friends El (Billy Howle), Livia (Pippa Bennett-Warner), and Richard (Jack Farthing). She introduces herself as Sasha, who just returned from Japan as an art marketer when in reality she is an office temp living in near poverty with her ill mother (Lisa Palfrey). She seals the deal at a cocktail party where she also meets Josh (Brandon Micheal Hall) who is on to her immediately but finds her intriguing. They begin a casual affair. El’s wife Chloe (Pippa Bennett-Warner) is found dead, an apparent suicide, and here’s the interesting thing – Becky and Chloe are best friends since childhood. So what’s she playing at and why doesn’t she know these people? The night of her suicide Chloe called Becky and said she had one thing to tell her – and we don’t know what it was. Becky/Sasha plays out her demented scenario with destructive force, breaking into her friends’ homes, letting air out of tires, and leaving keys behind so she can later crash a dinner party and begin an affair with Chloe’s widower. Becky is deeply unlikeable, she’s a puzzle; what outrages will she put in play to soothe her aching psyche. Oh, and did I mention she leaves her mother alone and in danger while she’s out gallivanting and scheming? Her mother has advanced dementia and wanders. Sweet girl.
I love a conspiracy thriller and that’s what Prime Video offers in the Chris Pratt starrer The Terminal List. He’s James Reece, commander of a Navy SEALs platoon that was wiped out by a tripwire explosive in a Syrian tunnel en route to a mission. He and Boozer were the sole survivors. While Reece deals with the trauma and a serious concussion, they have a drink at the Incirlik Airbase where a reporter approaches asking questions about the failed mission, Boozer immediately leaves and Reece has nothing to say but keeps her card. He’s then interviewed by the brass who give him an official account of what happened, he tells them it wasn’t like that, he was there. He’s told he is the only survivor and replies that’s not true, he and Boozer just had a drink. He’s alarmed but boards a military transport to go home to California and his wife and child (Riley Keough and Arlo Mertz) where officials repeatedly tell him his recollections of the attack are wrong. He’s sent for a triggering MRI to prove his concussion is giving him wrong signals. The Secretary of Defense (Jeanne Tripplehorn) visits him and reiterates the government line that he is mistaken. Only his army buddy Ben (Taylor Kitsch) believes him and they begin to piece together memories and realities. Danger ahead as it becomes clear the US government has an agenda against a career soldier who nearly gave his life for his country. Dark, insidious treachery and intrigue to protect what?
Still astonished by Bruce Mau’s unlikely journey from poverty in the wilderness outside Sudbury Ontario to world domination in the field of design. But as he explains in the doc Mau, his beginnings dictated his path; I’ll leave that for you to discover. He is a visionary considered one of the greatest contemporary thought leaders who in the course of the doc, finds himself tasked with redesigning the holy Muslim city of Mecca. Shock and awe throughout as the filmmakers reveal Mau’s truths and new”designs” that push him toward his life’s dream, creating Massive Change through design. His word “design” is given breadth and power, a way of describing living with the intention of bettering humanity. Follow Mau from his home in Chicago (and a reminder of his Canadians, a Hudson Bay blanket) to Beijing, New York, Quateamala (which he renamed at the president’s request..interesting story), London, Mecca (without Mau, not allowed because he is not Muslim) and Bejing where he was to install Massive Action, a 65k square foot exhibit pondering the future of design, that was scotched by Canada/Chinese politics. His captivating manner of speaking, so dense with knowledge and optimism is peppered with inspirational bites “Think You Are Lost on a Forest and design what will advance your cause”. and we get to visit his abandoned family home in the Northern Ontario wilderness, a very strange trip. Absolutely captivating, weaving a tapestry of intellect, optimism, and the many meanings of design and at its heart, deep common sense. TVOD/Digital now.
Pierre Pinaud’s The Rose Maker on DVD on June 28 takes us to the stunning rose gardens of France where competition to create spectacular new breeds is cut-throat! Artisanal horticulturalist Eve Vernet (Catherine Frot) is a star generational “rose maker” but she has no head for business, that’s left to Vera her longtime assistant. Vera informs her that the business is on the verge of failing and her best option is to sell her father’s legacy; receivers are after them for debts unpaid for months. Unless Eve can create a new star rose and win the annual competition. Her competitor, Lamarzelle, is high-tech, hands-off and according to Eva, lacks passion, purely profit. Vera secretly hires three ex-cons (Manel Foulgoc, Fatsah Bouyahmed, and Marie Petiot) in a rehabilitation scheme to help out and Eva is not impressed. However, the force of her personality and love of botany starts to rub off on them. She must get a hold of the rare Lion rose in order to create the new rose’s she’s imagined and that means breaking into Lamarzelle’s ultra-secure facility and stealing a pot. And these three are just the ones to make it happen. Fred – who happens to have a lion and a rose tattoo – is singularly talented at complicated, high-tech thefts so a plan is hatched. This edgy, fun, and gorgeous film puts big business under the scope and celebrates, the fascinating world of roses, it’s a love story and a world of eye-popping fun. And you’ll know how to hybridise a rose by the end. Magic.
Also from France, the gripping French series Gloria now on MHz Choice is a worthy six-parter about a married couple who own a law firm. They have a good, if stressed life, with three children, in-laws nearby and busy schedules. Gloria (Cécile Bois) and David (Michaël Cohen) don’t get to spend much time together but overall, it’s a good life and they love each other. David leaves for work one morning, fails to wave at his elderly neighbour as he usually does, and drives off. But he doesn’t come home. Repeated calls aren’t answered so she checks local hospitals, goes to the police and gathers the family. She searches his belongings and then their law office. The staff tells her he’s never there, he hasn’t done any work and has neglected the firm, and that there is no income. A friend says his car was spotted at the ferry terminal indicating he’s left the area. Shock upon shock but she determines to get to the bottom of the mystery. Her investigations take her to troubling places and to make matters worse, someone is out to get her. Gloria’s an intense, fierce story raised by Bois’ supple performance as a woman who’s had the rug pulled from under and must face the fact she never knew David.
Netflix‘ animated adventure The Sea Beast in theatres now and on the service July 8th boasts a significant voice cast of Karl Urban, Jared Harris, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Dan Stevens, and Kathy Burke, with young Zaris-Angel Hator as a London orphan girl smitten by sea beast lore and the men who hunt them. Back when the tale is set, hunters were considered heroes, paid by the King to rid the oceans of scary beings, but extended sequences of beasts being mercilessly hunted with gunshot, arrows, spears, harpoons, swords, and more is a tad upsetting for wee ones and may seem excessive to big ones too. Maisie manages to get on board the ship and finds a reluctant ally in hunter Jacob Holland whose reputation precedes him. He’ll be the next ship’s captain because the current one vows to retire the day they catch the beast. Maisie and Jacob are eaten by the beast, the first chapter of their maritime adventures. Once sneezed onto a tropical shore, they find shelter in a shell and consider their plans when what ho! Maisie discovers an adorable tiny bouncy blue creature and a nest of eggs. The little guy is adorable, is he really sea beast? So the two begin to rethink their mission and begin new ones out to the edges of the world. Richly detailed animation is a treat.