By Anne Brodie
Steven Soderberg’s noir period gang comedy No Sudden Move on Crave owes a huge debt to Noah Hawley’s Fargo Season 4. Set amidst Black and Italian gangsters in the fifties, it’s shot similarly with similar funky period music given a cool update, wardrobe, lighting and also refers to Kansas City although it’s set in the Motor City. And it also “modern” gangsterism in context back to ancient roots in Italy and Africa. NSM is set in Detroit’s stratified automobile makers’ universe and based in part on a true story, unlike Hawley’s fake true story. Don Cheadle is fresh out of prison and looking for work, and Brendan Fraser’s gangsters hire him for a three-hour tour, I mean, job. He’s being paid an enormous sum, to babysit a family while their father retrieves a document from his boss’ safe. Cheadle’s Curt he has nerves of steel, a strategic brain, a gun and a book of bets and debts everybody’s after. Thugs for hire played by Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro and Keiran Culkin put the family under the gun while Dad’s at the office but a mistake by Culkin’s character throws the plan into a tragic tizzy. Meanwhile, a flatfoot (Jon Hamm) working gang activity hovers, and Ray Liotta’s crime boss is both a threat and threatened. Cheadle found out the Black neighbourhoods are being razed for train tracks, what his friend calls “Negro removal” and gets his hands on the document that proves the bitter reality of stinky politics and the automotive industry. The film zips along at a smart, efficient pace, as desperate men and women live and die, when what ho, Matt Damon shows up with a sack full of cash. It may be derivative but No Sudden Move is also a big sack full of fun.
And now the highly anticipated sequel to the Dreamworks classic. Boss Baby: Family Business finds the Templeton brothers have grown up and are fathers but estranged from one another. They look back in time to figure out what went wrong and stumble across a mission to bond over – saving the world from bad babies. The new Baby Boss, Tina wants Tim and Ted to put down evil Mr. Armstrong’s baby rebellion with the help of a formula that will turn them into babies for a short while. Hopefully, long enough to put a stop to the violence, name-calling, older generation shaming and that incredible entitlement sweeping through nurseries everywhere. Parents are strangely oblivious to the horrific little creatures they’re raising, but that’s because the wee ones can turn it on and off. Evil Mr. Armstrong’s dastardly plan is to have these shrieking, nipple twisting, miniature disasters reset the world as we know it. T and T must quash the baby uprising, with love of course. The film’s colourful, slightly nostalgic look and garish, hell-on-earth baby places accompanied by ear-splitting crying, screaming and shouting give a new twist to the Christmas movie genre as Mr. Armstrong stages a children’s Christmas pageant. He’ll use a baby-invented app to turn parents into his obedient zombies! Not on the Templeton boys’ watch! Over the top, loud and rude babies with apps. What could go wrong? Voice stars include Alec Baldwin, James Marsden, Amy Sedaris, Ariana Greenblatt, Eva Longoria, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Armstrong and is directed by Tom McGrath. In theatres.
When there is one heart to give, who gets it? That’s the taut moral quandary facing a medical team in The God Committee on TVOD. It follows hospital staffers, and a priest/ lawyer (Kelsey Grammer, Julia Stiles, Janeane Garofalo and Colman Domingo) tasked with choosing from a list of patients in need of a heart transplant. A heart has arrived unexpectedly following the death of a fifteen-year-old boy giving the team one hour to decide who gets it. It is an agonising process as they parse the candidates’ merits, including lifestyle, health, attitude and status. A major hospital benefactor (Dan Hedaya) insists his son, a drug addict who crashed his car while driving intoxicated, seriously injuring his fiancée, should have it. He will donate $25M to the hospital. There is an energetic older woman who loves life, a young woman and an old man also waiting for hearts. Philosophical, moral and practical angles are raised and picked apart at warp speed, and the film morphs into an emotional thriller. Cut to seven years later as the consequences of their decision become clear and the doctor who made the final choice attempts to assuage his guilt by leading research to test pigs’ hearts’ suitability for humans. This medical pulse pounder is smart and efficient, written and directed by Austin Stark based on Mark St. Germain’s play. Despite Grammer’s politics, I must say he’s superb and in his element as the lead heart surgeon.
Paper Spiders is an elegantly made emotional thriller about a high schooler coping with her mother’s deteriorating mental health. Mother and daughter Dawn and Melanie (Lili Taylor and Stefania LaVie Owen) recently lost their husband and father from a heart attack, but are coping. They’re devoted to one another, get along well, communicate and enjoy each other’s company. But Melanie has been accepted into a college 3000 miles away. Then a neighbour backs into a tree on their property and something blows inside Dawn. She’s edgy and overprotective but her anxiety is outsize. She’s fixated on Brodie, the unseen next-door neighbour she claims is climbing on her roof, breaking into the house, throwing rocks at her, planting bees in her house and sending pain waves via electronic gadgetry. She turns the household upside down searching for proof then claim because no one believes her. We don’t know that he’s not until her disease comes into full toxic bloom. She takes out a restraining order against Brodie and hires a private detective who reports no sign of bad deeds. Melanie finds gentle support and truth-telling don’t work – what will become of Dawn when Melanie’s in LA? She’s also experiencing her first romantic connection with Daniel, a teen alcoholic, and a betrayal by her best friend. She wonders if she’ll inherit her mother’s illness. So much for a teenager to bear. The film’s no-nonsense, dignified approach to mental illness is truly unique, and memorable performances by Taylor and LaVie Owen are informed by dignity. Also stars Peyton List, Max Casella and David Rasche, from writer-director Inon Shampanier. On DVD and TVOD now.
Another moving film about a young girl in crisis. Nicole Dorsey’s memorable and moody debut feature Black Conflux looks at kids in a small Newfoundland town as they begin to see the world in a new and not always positive way; they’re growing up. The absurdly talented cast features Ella Ballentine (an Anne of Green Gables) as Jackie a high schooler who lives with her unstable mother and boozy aunt. Dennis (Ryan McDonald) is a scary, secretive young brewery worker with an explosive nature who is drawn to Jackie but doesn’t know how to interact with people. Jackie’s bestie (Nicole Dorsey) is conventional, feminine and flirty, the opposite of Jackie’s views of who she is. She and Dennis meet – he’s the guy who kills things for fun and creates bad situations – but she’s not reading his signals. Each character is a bit rough around the edges in their small Newfoundland town, the performances are offbeat and arresting, but the film’s great strength is its naturalistic realism, the visual spell cast by the evocative, isolated and terrible beauty of the landscape. Then there’s that nerve rattling score. Now on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Chris Pratt exec produces and stars in Amazon Prime‘s The Tomorrow War on July 6th. It’s a future/present (we’ll get to that) dystopian outing about fighting perhaps the ugliest monsters ever crammed into an action movie. Great cast including J.K. Simmons and Betty Gilpin plus interesting side characters from Sam Richardson and Edwin Hodge. Pratt is Dan, a family man, ex-military now a school teacher. During their Christmas party, an urgent TV bulletin orders all able-bodied men and women, of all ages, to report for duty to fight a non-human enemy. the bulletin comes from thirty years in the future, so naturally, that will require some time-jumping (new to the partiers). “You are our last hope. All humans will be wiped off the planet if you don’t join us.” He signs up, is told he will be dead in seven years’ time and accepts a painful gizmo that will take him when and where he needs to go. He joins a ragtag team of fighters, many elderly, for a seven-day journey into the dangerous future, rising up and landing on top of a condo building in Miami (!) that’s seen better days. And thus begins well over two hours of fighting, accompanied by excruciatingly overwrought music. In the future, he meets the daughter (Yvonne Strzechowski) he abandoned a lifetime ago, now an army Colonel, and they join forces, mano-a-mano with lobster, lizard, insect-like creatures and in Arctic Russia, armed with a toxin proven to kill them and to discover how they appeared on earth. KInd of an exercise in what might look good on paper until the third act which perks things up with insights and actual real-life themes like the importance of innovation and research funding. A mixed bag.
Crave has an eye-opening documentary on one of the most interesting comedians in recent history. The One and Only Dick Gregory, debuts Sunday night. Gregory was a polymath, a creative man who not only broke the comedy glass ceiling for Black performers but revolutionised health, public service, activism, “cultural disruption” and stand up. It was tough for him to get big gigs but following a triumphant night at Chicago’s Playboy Club, he was launched. His comedy concerned black and white relations: he did not mince words. The KKK, lynchings, slavery, all grist for his provocative mill. He won over Southerners with his no-holds-barred, freewheeling style. In the ’60s he was the “top moneymaking entertainer in America” and was then able to influence others about health and wellness, fitness, feminism, the Vietnam War, civil rights, human rights, animal rights, underdog rights and ecology. He marched, protested, arrested 100 times and shot but he kept on ticking. Gregory wanted to help people, it was his mission in life to be of service. Gregory’s sanctuary was his farm in Plymouth, Massachusetts where he, his wife and ten children lived a nature-based, clean vegetarian life; his kids didn’t know what sugar was, he didn’t smoke or drink and he ran across the US to raise awareness for his causes. He was surveilled by the FBI for most of his adult life as a provocateur and he knew it. But he said, “ All that matters is how much service did you give to the human beings”. You’ll be floored by this man’s complexity and goodness, his blazing wit and tireless spirit. Watching is time well used. Interviewees include Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Nick Cannon, Wanda Sykes, Kevin Hart, who also produced, and Medgar Evers’s widow Myrlie Louise Evers-Williams.
CJ Hunt’s The Neutral Ground on PBS POV‘s 34th season on July 5th is timely and concerns rising sentiment against Canadian and the US founders who legitimised Black slavery and Indigenous cultural genocide and whose monuments are coming down. Hunt attended a 2015 city vote to remove four Confederate monuments in New Orleans, but death threats ended the debate. He wanted to know why old Southern values continue to hold sway today. Both wryly funny and deeply troubling, Hunt’s research took him to a Civil War reenactment camp, where he, a man of colour, dressed up and interviewed re-enactors. He finds grisly items from the 1860s collected by interviewee’s relatives, and views a stately avenue of Confederate monuments in Richmond Virginia, of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson David, and reads “the negro is not equal to the white man. Slavery is his natural moral condition”. Tennis star Arthur Ashe is also represented there. In Monroe Louisiana, a man doesn’t think monuments represent slavery; they “memorialise missing soldiers”, and the eight million lives lost in the Civil War. It’s about “celebration and honour” to which Hunt answers “it’s a beautiful story but untrue. This lie has survived because it feels good”. It’s a complex study and an eye-opener; there are“ vestiges of these things all around us”. The monuments begin to come down, some by night, in secrecy, some loudly with protesters and counter-protesters. Hunt was at Charlottesville, Virginia and says he feels “blackest when he’s chasing white supremacists”. So much to unpack, examine and topple.
Most fun for last, kids. Sundance Now’s absolutely fabulous British comedy series Motherland even co-stars Joanna Lumley! Classically trained actors and comediennes (Anna Maxwell Martin, Tanya Moodie, Lucy Punch, Diane Morgan and Phillipa Dunne) play Julia, Meg, Amanda, Liz and Anne an actual “gang” of forty-something London mums. Stay-at-home dad Kevin (Paul Ready) is one of the gals and he’s in on all their nefarious, doomed schemes to get their kids in the closest school, maybe not the best, convince an ageing, ailing mother to move out, hide the truth about their relationships, drinking, taking a school trip that’s a disaster they caused, making it through the children’s Christmas pageant without screaming – mostly, conquering head lice, wishing to sleep with the builder, and so on. Heightened reality or just plan reality for these comfortable middle-class lifelong friends who feel they somehow got a raw deal. Each character is powerfully defined, so rebellious, so trapped and so funny. Witticisms and excellent observations on modern urban society and love drive this six-part comedy dream that you won’t want to end. the new generation of Ab Fabness. Good news. This is season three, there are two earlier seasons available! Three preems July 8.