By Anne Brodie
As awards season heats up, we think of New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog on Netflix. Benedict Cumberbatch’s sociopathic rancher Phil launches a campaign of terror against his brother’s new bride (real-life couple Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) driven by hate, sexual tension and a myriad of failures It’s an untenable situation, in an elegiac, parched dusty epic form.
Now on offer is a documentary memoir of Campion’s experiences shooting on the New Zealand set. Behind The Scenes With Jane Campion sheds light on her journey and her actors in making this masterpiece.
W. Kamau Bell’s Showtime docuseries We Need To Talk About Cosby speaks home truths many admit they find uncomfortable. This painstakingly detailed four-parter presents the story of the nice guy character Cosby created to be his avatar. That persona contributed to his success during the civil rights era when there were few black comedians embraced by white society. It absolutely sealed his phenomenal global success with The Cosby Show, representing a so-called “Black Utopia” but soured when he adopted an angry, conservative Cosby to shame young Black men on their baggy pants, rap music, and imagined drug-taking. Look up “the poundcake speech”. In Oct. 2014, Black comedian Hannibal Buress outed Cosby as a sexual predator; Hollywood’s open secret and launched a firestorm. Canadian athlete Andrea Constand came forward to sue Cosby for sexual misconduct in 2004 for which he paid her $3M. And that, the deluge, dozens of women came forward with their accounts of being drugged and raped by Cosby over decades. He denies all but occasionally lets slip remarks indicating guilt. One interviewee says Cosby was the Black community’s “North Star”, a symbol of Black success. Many struggled, finding it impossible and heartbreaking to believe the stories, that they were functions of racial bias. Others say “He isn’t what you think he is”, “He’s the biggest predator in Hollywood”, “He’s a rapist who had a big tv show once”. Then a shocking clip from an episode of The Cosby Show in which Dr. Huxtable discusses his secret BBQ sauce that makes people want to get cozy”. He donated millions to schools and eluded punishment, then he was imprisoned and just like that his case was vacated and he is a free man. And his survivors find healing impossible. Crave.
And now Woody Allen’s new movie. Rifkin’s Festival on TVOD is vintage Allen concerning romance between elderly men and the young women who seem absolutely fascinated by them. Wallace Shawn is Mort, a former film professor turned writer and he’s with his high-powered film publicist wife Sue at the San Sebastien Film Festival. She’s pushing a hot, pretentious filmmaker Philippe (Louis Garrel) whose film is the talk of the festival. Sue and Philippe spend lots of time together, leaving Mort to amuse himself. He imagines he has chest pain and is directed to Dr. Jo Rojas (Elena Anaya) an attractive, sympathetic and young woman; he’s in lust and dreams up ailments so he can continue to see her. She is in an open marriage so the field’s clear. Pure Allen – old-timey jazz, that familiar titles and credits font, the same navel-gazing ageing males pondering their romantic lives, the young women they are drawn to him. For film buffs it’s a reference funfair; Mort imagines himself as Citizen Kane, spouts Fellini, Bergman, Godard and makes endless Nouvelle Vague references. It feels so seventies, as does the environment of the unwoke Spanish film festival. As usual, Allen slams Christianity and Judaism, Greek mythology, and for some reason, Steve Guttenberg shows up. Christopher Waltz, as Bergman’s Death advises Mort “Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, no processed goods or saturated fats, exercise every day not stressful just every day. and get a colonoscopy.” It’s funny, familiar and the dialogue’s snappy but all that’s transpired with Allen changes everything. Still, you may be curious as I was.
Words that don’t seem to fit – Disney+ and Pam & Tommy – and there they are. In the nineties, Canadian Pamela Anderson and Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee were big news. Things came to a head when in 1997 a sex tape was anonymously posted online. How was it obtained, was it legal when the internet was “the Wild West”? Who profited? Seth Rogen plays carpenter Rand who worked for Lee (Sebastien Stan) creating the ultimate love bedroom- hanging chairs, innovative lighting, levels and mirrors so Tommy and Pam (Lily James) could up their sex ante. Weeks later Lee hadn’t paid Rand a cent and answered reminders with weapons. Rand rifles through Lee’s workshop looking for valuables and discovers a videotape of P&T having sex and thus begins the Tape Saga, an online goldmine, a public scandal and an apparent sore point for Anderson. Watch for staggeringly lifelike prosthetics on James and Stan. Cheesy, tacky, porn-obsessed and loaded, P&T will definitely appeal to reality TV fans. Co-stars Nick Offerman, Taylor Schilling, Andrew Dice Clay, Pepi Sonuga, Spenser Granese and Mozhan Marnò. Rogen handles drama with ease.
Kristen Bell’s grimly funny satire on WIP movies with the tongue twister title is a must-see. The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window now on Netflix offers pure, lurid silliness in an out-of-control plot generously peppered with genre cliches. Bell’s performance is 110% in, as she winks the camera as we count the deliberate, hilarious tropes. She’s Anna, estranged from her husband in part because of the fake British accent she affects. She’s building an impressive wine cork collection signalling her inner emptiness boozing; all she has to amuse herself – besides an occasional nod to her child – is spying on the handsome new neighbour across the street, wine in hand. Hands she repeatedly burns reaching into hot ovens. Beseiged by nightmares and hallucinations she finds comfort in his arms – or does she? She Takes her Daughter to Work – her husband’s work as a forensic scientist and leaves the girl alone with serial killer Massacre Mike. One day, she witnesses a murder through the handsome neighbour’s bedroom window. Or does she? The volume of cliches grows as she becomes madder and her rain phobia goes full-on. And there’s the sympathetic handyman who spends weeks fixing her mailbox, really just gazing at it. Don’t look away or you’ll miss a frame or two of another deranged female film icon – Alex Forrest. This is fun, fun, ridiculous fun. Also stars Michael Ealy, Appy Pratt and Nicole Pulliam.
A tight-knit seaside village in Northern Ireland is abuzz when a Leila Hussain (Amara Karan) is sent from London to act as DCI in BritBox‘s original series Hope Street. Only her Commander, Inspector Finn O’Hare knows why she was transferred there. Her presence has angered Sgt. Pettigrew (Kerri Quinn) who expected to get the job launches a quiet investigation into Hussain’s background. Meanwhile, the by-the-book newbie isn’t settling in well, in this village of gossips, boozers and tight quarters. Villagers ask her inappropriate questions about her ethnic background. These are people who’ve never left the village. Their lives are frequently disturbed by murders. Hussain’s first case concerns attempted murder aboard a fishing boat, international human trafficking, a juvenile offender with ties to the police station and a pub owner unknowingly drawn into an illegal alcohol ring that resulted in alcohol poisoning. So why was Hussain transferred from London to Port Hope? Each episode offers a standalone mystery and throughlines of the characters’ ups and downs. Fun distraction from hustle and bustle. Also stars Brid Brennan, Des McAleer, and Ciarán McMenamin.
Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind For those of us who grew up listening to Orillia’s shining star, aware of him as Canadian and international, those regular spring shows at Roy Thomson and Massey Halls and his musical history of Canadiana – particularly the Great Lakes and the connecting railroads, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind is pure gold. Martha Kehoe and Joan Tosoni take us through his early years as a choirboy in Orillia, then square dancing on CBC’s Country Hoedown, his part in Yorkville’s heady music days, a global career and still writing and singing at 80. The doc’s heavy with bold-faced names but its strength is the storyteller himself, describing what it’s been like being Gordon Lightfoot – artist and man. His poetry, 12 string guitar and gorgeous voice are part of it but says “I’m grateful to be gifted to be able to create songs. You’ll tear up often, especially listening to the fact-based elegy The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. How wonderful to be reminded of the treasure that is Lightfoot in this excellent and nostalgic couple of hours. Lightfoot lives next door to Drake on Park Lane Circle in Toronto – two Canadian international stars who love our city and country. Just another bit of magic. TVOD.