By Anne Brodie
Elizabeth: A Portrait in Part(s) is in limited theatres, matinees only now, but opens in 35 theatres across Canada on three nights, May 24, 25 and 28. Roger Michell’s uniquely artistic and loving biography gleaned from archival footage, including home movies, interviews with The Queen’s circle, world leaders, fans, staff, and insightful, playful, and serious chats with Her Majesty. Michell marries the best of extant footage and cuts it in radically new ways so it seems partly surreal, extremely homey, and boundary-breakingly close up. See the Queen jump up and down and throw her arms at the horseraces – big fan. See her reaction when a grandchild steps on her toe, and hear her address the many highs and lows of the job that “fate” chose for her (“a ticklish sort of job” ), her close-knit family coming together regularly, like any other family, presiding over state affairs, meeting with her Prime Ministers over 70 years from Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson and absorbing the many ups and downs that fate had in store for her. “Ma’am” describes the problem with wearing the Crown, a bejewelled object so heavy she can’t look down to read a speech because it would “break one’s neck”. The collage’s loose metier allows for a lively whirling edit of film, animation, TV and film clips, pop songs – beautifully positioned “Let Me Entertain You” and “Heroes” among them, plus ceremonial interludes, contrasting her global fame and our sense of intimacy with her through her own words. Hear Paul McCartney call her “a babe” and that she inspired “lustfulness” in his crowd. The longest-reigning monarch in British history, her common sense, playfulness, stoicism, and connection with people are still in play today. Find out where to stream The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration at the end of this column
Memoria from writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul uses his distinctive two-part formula to great effect in this exploration of a woman who hears disturbing sonic booms. Tilda Swinton is Jessica Holland a Scottish botanist living in the Medellin region of Colombia Swinton cuts an uncharacteristically unremarkable appearance and dials down her character’s personality. She is a wraith in some ways, a reflection of others, an unusual part for an actor. Jess is awakened one night by a mighty boom, and in the first of Weerasethakul’s long, silent takes, sits on her bed pondering the noise. She finds a recording technician to recreate it in hopes of discovering its source. No one else hears it. She tells him it’s like a concrete ball dropped in a metal well surrounded by saltwater and he miraculously nails it. But it doesn’t solve anything. The booms come with jolting irregularity, only to her, and silent parking lots suddenly come alive with car horns and emergency alarms, audible only to her. The disruptions are playing with her ears, sleep patterns, and well-being. She wanders the mountain region alone in Part Two which sinks into the meaning of memory, the senses, and the possibility of wordless communication with spirits. These are the bones of the story, but the psychological, mystical, and sensory elements are its takeaways. Memoria’s beauty and shock walk masterfully in a place between belief and disbelief while asking much from viewers. A unique and wonderful, and disturbing experience in which Swinton frees herself to allow this stunning story to unfold. In select theatres including TIFF Bell Lightbox
Canada’s beloved The Kids in the Hall “return from the dead”, 27 years after their TV series ended to kill us with laughter once again! Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson star in a reboot – or Season Six – launching today with a two-part documentary to come May 20th. The Kids in the Hall – wait till you hear the origin of that name – Comedy Punks! features testimonials from Jay Baruchel, Eddie Izzard, Mae Martin, Jeane Garafalo, and the Canadian who took them internationally, SNL’s Lorne Michaels. The revival’s joyous, satirical exuberance with lewd laughs, those faces we love, the boys’ outrageous, fearless takes on who were are, a feast for the original fanbase and new generations. The sketch series explores saying goodbye to the fax machine, naked and I mean naked, thieves, Pete Davidson, sensitive waiters, elderly male pole dancers laid off from GM featuring Lord Greystroke, a blue Zoom call, a baby doctor’s drop average, a nostalgic celebration of the Glory Hole and the Rivoli, a sinister tropical fruit platter, much more including the Guy in the Towel, Katherine O’Hara, sex and a 70’s cocktail party. Thank you, Prime Video. Thank you, Kids.
Green Band Trailer
Red Band Trailer (Caution: Rude!)
Also, thank goodness for the return of Hacks, starring Jean Smart in the role of a lifetime – Deborah Vance, a Las Vegas resident comedienne /diva facing the downside of the fame slope. Last season ended with her infamous bomb, career-threatening performance, and assistant /writer Eva’s (Hannah Einbinder) email to the studio, a poison pen note detailing Vance’s abuse and entitlement. Deb doesn’t know about it – yet, but she watches as painters cover her building-size portrait on the Strip with white paint. They watch Deb’s son-in-law wrestle and she saves the day as only an egomaniac would. But she’s still persona non grata. She dusts herself off and she and Eva begin a cross country redemption tour to workshop ideas for a new routine. They lose hotel rights and Eva’s father’s ashes in a tennis ball can are somehow tossed, forcing them to turn the bus around so they can wade through dumpsters to find Dad. Deb’s dressed to the nines but jumps in to help and he is recovered. Back on the road and a litany of horrible, hilarious, and personality-driven disagreements that reveal the weird ways of Deb’s behaviour and new insights into Eva. Deb finds out about the poison pen note and Eva offers to quit. She’s told to stay but her demeanour as a sassy, entitled, and “equal” employee is dashed. Her shame is physically obvious and Deb finds passive-aggressive ways to pay her back but also manages some empathy. On the other hand, their bus driver (a recurring new character from Laurie Metcalfe) bosses them around and judges them without fear as they traverse the US in search of meaning. Hacks continue its brainy humour, its profound dive into human psychology through comedy, lifted by exceptional performances, and a salute to the bottomless well of talent of Jean Smart. New recurring guest stars Martha Kelly, Ming-Na Wen, and Susie Essman, and guest stars Margaret Cho and Devon Sawa. Eight eppies of Hacks S2 on HBO / Crave.
Mike Myer’s complicated brain has come up with one of the weirdest series ever. The Pentaverate brews up a familiar Myers iconography, language, scatology, history, and inside info (Shep Gordon?) in a six-parter. No one will enjoy the series more than a Southern Ontarian. Its star is Ted Scarborough, an affable good news reporter at CACA News, based on CFTO News’ beloved good news reporter Glenn Cochrane. Ted wears Glenn’s signature plaid suits, he’s as wide as Glenn, he’s as dapper as Glenn and he looks a heck of a lot like him. I know. I worked with Glenn at CFTO News, heck we were onstage together as stretcher carriers in The Nutcracker with the National Ballet of Canada – twice! He taught me the March Through! Myers never hid his love for Cochrane and it was arranged for them to meet at Queen’s Park, a segment people remember today. Myers got one thing wrong about Glenn. He was never a pushover and he was far more than his image, an intellectual, a student of human psychology, a poet with a rapier wit and a letter writer. Anyhoo, Scarborough (the studio was in Scarborough and Ted was the name of the newsroom boss, Mr. Stuebing to you, also a legend) is fired by a woman boss with the deepest Canadian accent ever put to magnetic tape or pixels. He leaves tail between his legs in search of a story that will bring him back – The Pentaverate – a 700-year-old world-protecting institution of Big Thinkers, all played by Mike and his brother Paul. It’s purposely, outrageously unbelievable, nutty as can be, star-studded with the likes of Jennifer Saunders, Ken Jeong, Rob Lowe, Lydia West, Jeremy Irons, etc. It is wild and woolly, looks expensive, and is in keeping with Myers’ oeuvre. Not for everyone but very much for some. On Netflix now.
The Essex Serpent on Apple TV+ and it’s a worthy six-parter based on the best seller and award-winning novel by Sarah Perry. It opens in the 1830s in a gloomy marsh, the Blackwater in Essex, a twisting array of lakes and rivers. A distraught young woman is in the water begging for forgiveness for having an affair. She disappears into the water and later resurfaces horribly mangled. Locals blame the Essex Serpent, a creature that’s haunted them for generations, and which they blame for mysterious disappearances. There is an old drawing of it but no one has actually seen the beast; still, it is blamed for local attacks for centuries. Cut to Victorian London where Cora, a widow (Clare Danes) finally tastes freedom after the death of her violently abusive husband. She’s an unusual woman for the times – forthright, well educated, and show-stoppingly eccentric. She moves to Aldwinter, Essex, near the Salt Marsh due to her obsession with the Serpent. Cora helps a man (Tom Hiddleston) pull a calf out of deep mud; he’s the local vicar, a bibliophile, and tells her the “sea dragon” is merely a superstition. Cora goes to church against her will, symbolically opening herself to evil, the snake a powerful symbol. And locals blame her for the deaths by luring the serpent to their area, simply for having moved there, because she is evil. There’s a strong Gothic vibe set against Cora’s modernity that’s fascinating. The mood, music, and natural muddy palette are funereal, increasing our sense of unease and dread. Effectively scary, verging on horrific, this chilling series raises the question of what we believe in and why and is it helping us. Also stars Frank Dillane, Clémence Poésy and Hayley Squires,
Disney+ musical Sneakerella is a lively, colourful, and dramatic multi-twist on Cinderella, elevated by its three charismatic stars Chosen Jacobs as El, Lexi Underwood as Kira, and Simcoe Ontario’s pride Devyn Nekoda as Sami. They’re from another era, they do it all, singin’, dancin’, acting, and owning the screen. El is mourning the death of his beloved mother and is in a difficult situation. He’s a stockboy in his stepfather’s failing shoe shop and at the mercy of bully stepbrothers who love nothing more than to hurt and humiliate him. El’s a closet sneaker designer with remarkable imagination and talent; his kicks are works of art, cityscapes, lighting, and applied found materials and they connect him to his designer mother. He meets Kira on the streets of Astoria one day, they bond over the cool sneakers he’s wearing, his own design, and he teases her city ways. It’s clear there is a spark but they part suddenly without getting one another’s information. And he doesn’t see Kira get into a limo. Her father (John Salley) is a sneaker mogul and thanks to Kira’s prodding, is looking for fresh young talent. El’s best friend Sami encourages him when he gets down about the lost connection, the stepbros (who are incorrigible), and that he’s had to hide his kicks love from the family. Kira launches a social media campaign to find him but nothing’s as easy as that. Its’ complicated- heartbreak, lies, tears, misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and those stepbrothers. Its unique twist on the fairytale, with a Fairy Godfather, a strong ecological message, and its powerful modernity. Shot in part in Toronto. A special cheer for the stunning dance numbers – musical game-changers that will lighten the hardest heart. May 14th.
Matthew McConaughey originated the character of Mickey Haller in the film adaptation of Michael Connelly’s bestselling novel series The Lincoln Lawyer. Now it’s a Netflix ten-parter with Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Haller gets back in the game following a traumatic surfboard accident and subsequent addiction to painkillers. His game is defence law, out of a classic blue convertible Lincoln Continental car/office. He’s jobless when a fellow defence lawyer is murdered and his case files stolen. The man knew he was doomed, and made out a new will leaving his entire practice to Haller. So not only does Haller now have a raft of cases, but he also has the same threat that killed the man. Neve Campbell plays Maggie his first wife and mother of his teenage daughter, and a prosecution lawyer he faces often. His second wife Lorna ( Becki Newton) works for him; she has keen instincts and knowledge of the law and human nature, and she’s engaged to his private investigator (Angus Sampson). So it’s all pretty cozy and a source of much humour. The murder case against a young billionaire seems airtight; he discovered the bodies of his wife and her lover but his entitled demands make him unsympathetic. It’s a fast-paced, fun series that I didn’t expect it to be, entertaining, with interesting characters.
Canadian film and television producer (Little Mosque on the Prairie), author, journalist, and Muslim thought leader for women in media, Zarqa Nawaz can now add the actor to her skill set. Nawaz’s comedy short series Zarqa -streaming on CBC Gem concerns a middle-aged Muslim woman dealing with the aftermath of divorce. She’s furious when she discovers her husband’s marrying Bethany a white, very young white woman and she’s invited to their wedding. Zarqa texts Yusuf to say she’s bringing her new man, a white brain surgeon named Brian, which miraculously, she finds in the nick of time via Google. She and Brain meet and he’s attracted to her while she makes it clear she’s only using him as wedding arm candy. Her ex-sister-in-law finds them together and insults her, then follows them around with binoculars. They seem to get along well, maybe he’s her Ken doll-after-all equivalent to Yusuf’s Barbie. The script is laced with lots of anti-white jokes, so be prepared. Check out Nawaz’s debut novel Jameela Green Ruins Everything, a satire about a disillusioned middle-aged Muslim woman who seeks spiritual guidance from her local imam and accidentally joins an international terrorist group.
Broken Wings, Jonathan Sutak’s spirit warming doc on a woman and her beloved one-winged wild vulture launches on PBS and its app on May 16th as the season finale of Reel South. Arkansas waitress Jayne doesn’t have much money or resources, but she has a lot of heart. She rents two rooms and sublets one to an 80-year-old disabled homeless woman – and hoarder she met in the park. Despite budgetary limitations, Jayne puts together enough each week at the casino and waiting tables to feed steaks to Adonis. He’s a young black vulture whose wing appears to have been chopped off, and he can’t fly – a death sentence for a scavenging vulture. Jayne keeps watch on him and pays tribute to him through artworks and installations. She faced a lot of strategic challenges keeping Adonis alive, he became frightened in the woods, she believes so she moved him into her room, illegal as he’s a bird of prey. Later he found a home at a retirement condo development, a pleasant place with a pond but residents didn’t like him until he fended off geese that left behind much more than he did if you get my drift. Sutak’s light touch, Jayne’s capacity to care for others, and Adonis living his best life make this a feel-good must-see.
Keith Thomas’ re-up of Stephen King’s Firestarter shot in Hamilton, Ontario, takes us down a familiar path, in which mere humans have genetic disorders of the sci-fi variety. Some can start fires with their minds, move objects, cause explosions, etc., and of course, the highest levels of government seek to corral and study them. They pose a significant threat to national security and endless people and buildings. Zac Efron and Sydney Lemmon are the McGees, and Charlie and their daughter (Ryan Kiera Armstrong ) all have disorders, Charlie is pyrokinetic ( not contagious). The McGees know what it is to be studied and poked and prodded by the various agencies looking to discover what sets their genetic makeup apart from the rest of us, they were part of an experiment. They didn’t enjoy it and now seek to protect Charlie from prying government eyes and that means they are continually in danger and on the run. Michael Greyeyes is Rainbird a threatening mysterious presence who appears armed and ultra-focused on snatching Charlie by force. The chase across farm fields and forests of southern Ontario is pretty, but still, I just don’t think it’s a compelling concept, once you know, you know and you know how it’s going to turn out.
So let’s get classy. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration streams Sunday at 3.30 EST exclusively on Britbox! Yes! Her Majesty’s 70th Anniversary of service will be star-studded – with the following confirmed – Dame Helen Mirren, Tom Cruise, Damien Lewis, Omid Djalili, Adjoa Andoh, and Alan Titchmarsh. Hosts Phillip Schofield and Julie Etchingham will present guests Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ant & Dec, Dame Joan Collins, Sir Mo Farah, Dame Maureen Lipman, Sir David Jason, Alan Titchmarsh, Dame Kelly Holmes, Moira Stuart, Sir Trevor McDonald, Keala Settle, Gregory Porter, and Katherine Jenkins. The arena event will feature 1300 performers and 500 horses in four acts, through British history, from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I through to the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II with a grand 75-piece orchestra finale. And at its heart, the beloved 96-year-old monarch. The Queen has weathered so much, from driving a Jeep during the Blitz in WWII, family dramas, political upheaval, catastrophes, and joys, and still smiles radiantly, loved and cherished, the longest-reigning monarch in British history.