By Anne Brodie
Passages, Ira Sachs’ heart-rending study of the nature of love is short, sharp, and deeply, at times painfully poignant. Husbands, filmmaker Tomas (Franz Rogowski) and Martin (Ben Whishaw) are comfortable; they’ve been together for a while. Following an intense day of shooting his new film Tomas and his team go dancing and he hooks up with Agathe (Adèle Exarchopoulos) a film extra who knows he’s gay. But their attraction is undeniable. They spend the night together. At home, Tomas tells Ben how excited he was by her, that he felt something he hadn’t felt “in a long time”. He tells Ben he’s going to the edit suite but spends the night with Agathe as their connection deepens. He moves in with her, leaving Ben hurt and angry and he soon begins an affair of his own with Amad (Erwan Kepoa Falé). Tomas tries to repair their rift but can’t – and then learns he is to be a father; Agathe is pregnant. Her parents question Tomas’ protestations that he’ll look after her and won’t leave, even as he attempts to rebuild with Martin. The ebb and flow of partnerships, graphic sex scenes, and Martin’s efforts to direct everyone’s lives make for a fascinating, maddening journey to define and “own” love. Director Sachs who co-wrote the screenplay with Mauricio Zacharias says that after seeing actor Laura Antonelli in The Innocents “I suddenly questioned the binary nature of my own desire. I was struck by how desire is fluid.” As Tomas discovers, love can’t be directed or controlled. TIFF Bell Lightbox and Vancouver’s Vancity.
Filmmaker Tom Weidliner’s incredible documentary The Restless Hungarian and book on his father, structural engineer, the renowned Paul Weidliner, took him to unexpectedly dark places “from Kristallnacht to the Atomic Age, from Modernism to madness” and then some. While writing the book, just days after his wedding, Tom pondered suicide and sought to know why. It led him to his parents, Madeleine and Paul, a Communist in Hungary at 14, who was arrested and sentenced to death at 18, eloped to Bolivia with his mother, who after giving birth to Tom and his sister, developed full-blown schizophrenia. One of Paul’s close colleagues was a man who inspired the titular character in Dr. Strangelove. His career soared as his iconoclastic modernist designs popped up around the world, creating new ways of living. Tom found he’d secretly done top-secret work on the atomic bomb for the US military for fifty years. Meanwhile, at home, Mad kept tight control over the children, disapproving, erratic, and withholding, and was sent to a sanitarium. And shockingly, only as a man in his 60s did Tom discover he was Jewish. His journey is the heart of the film as he confronts his trauma, his parents’ legacies, and what became of his brilliant, wounded sister. What a tale, life is indeed stranger than fiction. TVOD.
Started watching Crave’s HBO documentary Telemarketers premiering Sunday and thought well, this is dreary. Set in a CDG, a New Jersey telemarketing call centre where ex-felons, murderers, vagrants, and other unemployables cold-call potential marks looking for donations to the local Fraternal Order of Police Benevolent society to help wounded officers and needy children. It’s a national billion-dollar industry involving thousands of local police benevolent charities and recently political PACs, the elderly, and indigents who give. Employee and filmmaker Sam Lipman- Stern shot footage for fun chronicling the laughs, drug use, pranks, and boozing that were the workplace culture. They were paid a pittance, read from scripts, and were canned if they didn’t meet the daily quota. As someone remarks “there’s no better salesperson than a heroin addict”; they’re focused. Lipman- Stern and his colleague “Patrick J. Pespas!” find where the money goes and set out on a twenty-year journey to expose the industry. Well, it is not dreary, by any stretch. The three-parter is absolutely riveting – the amateur sleuths didn’t really know what they were doing, and repeatedly put themselves in grave danger navigating industry leaders, workers, and the police, not to mention the US Attorney General. Episode three is high drama in the “you can’t make this stuff up” universe – the obstacles thrown in their paths, the personal changes they traverse, the frustration and endless disappointments, and yet the film is made – a must-see.
Prime Video spotlights our fascination with Royal romance and LGBTQ2+ issues in Matthew López’ feature Red, White, and Royal Blue. Two elite and extraordinarily good-looking young men – Britain’s Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine) and Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perezson) son of U.S. President Claremont (Uma Thurman) don’t like each other. Staged camera-ready handshakes are an obvious annoyance, and embarrassingly, at the wedding of Henry’s brother, they get into a spot of bother and collapse into the 75 thousand-pound ( $127,000 CDN) cake, captured on viral video. The families force them to get it together and create a united front as President Claremont is running for re-election and the royals, well, Royal. Things start with jolly fun, one-liners “Queen Victoria’s court had food fights all the time! Vicky!”, and my fave, the one about watching Mitch McConnell eat a banana. Fun side characters, especially Alex’s exasperated and witty aide (Sarah Shahi), and toadying Palace workers add to the mix. The final chapters take a different tone as the men begin to fall in love. “Princes can’t be gay” is the credo, and Henry must either live a lie and risk exposure or come out and unleash global heck. While Alex has support all around, Henry’s life is steeped in millennia of tradition, and he risks everything, facing his father the King’s wrath, and his grandfather’s. Could their affair derail the President’s political future? Derail the Monarchy? And we ask if this is 2023; can hidebound habit flex? Based on Casey McQuiston’s critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller.
Alex Winter’s 2022 documentary The YouTube Effect is now available across TVOD platforms and a sobering study it is. Founded in 2005, the video-sharing platform was a bit of a joke.
It was populated with pranks, dares, homemade movies, and music, a place to grab attention. In 2006, named Invention of the Year. Today the service is one of the most powerful in the world, with in excess of 2.6B users posting every kind of statement imaginable – political, social, economic, advertorial, promotional, influencer stuff and well, name it, it’s there. Need to install a heat pump? This is the spot. Interviews with celebs? Look no further. Keto recipes, folks baring their souls, fashion launches, reports from Ukraine, and movie trailers, it is a full-service global concept that works. But all that usefulness is tainted by a troubling trend of radicalisation. Youtube makes suggestions for videos to watch based on what has been watched, some of the suggestions go to strange places, and allegedly 10% of suggestions lead to conspiracy theory videos. YouTube can’t separate negative and positive and negative videos; it just wants more clicks. The algorithm can’t be undone. Vulnerable minds fall into the trap and down rabbit holes, a busy one being the preachings of the culture wars’ far right. And Youtube has refused a mother’s repeated request to take down a video of her reporter daughter being shot to death. WW3 preppers, QAnon, racists, white supremacists, and other uneducated concepts gain ground. YouTube can rightfully be blamed for helping fire the culture wars and the dumbing down of discourse; the dark side of algorithm life is here.
Netflix‘ eye-opening doc Poisoned: The Dirty Truth About Your Food looks at food-borne illnesses in the US, their causes, other countries’ experiences, and potential solutions. Approximately 48M Americans are sickened each year as the number of deaths rises each year. The food industry’s stance has been to put the onus for food safety on the consumer; cook the meat, wash the vegetables, and assume that’s enough. Poisonings, substantially in foods out of Yuma, Arizona, and parts of California have been linked to improper farming methods – crowded animal fields where waste runoff water is sprayed on produce for irrigation. That’s not the homemaker’s fault. The deadly Ecoli 0157 strain thrives in that environment and we learn, deaths from it are “pretty awful”, eating the organs one by one. The American Jack-in-the-Box chain famously undercooked ground beef because it makes burgers tough. The food lobby is extraordinarily powerful south of the border and has refused to change methods for decades, despite science. Longtime food safety advocate Bill Maler, educators, politicians, and survivors lead the fight to get the industry to clean up its act but is a frustratingly difficult process. Europe has cut its risk in half, and foods are labelled “pathogen-free”. Documentarian Stephanie Soechtig provides plenty of useful stats and guidance and a look at the tiny beginnings of change. Stewart “the Peanut King” Parnell was proven to have knowingly shipped tainted peanut products that killed people. He refused to eat a sample of his food during the trial and was sentenced to 28 years in jail. He still claims innocence as he deflects blame, and appeals for release while some believe he should have been charged with murder. Just the tip of the iceberg of this doc’s takeaways.
Gal Gadot, Jamie Dornan, international intrigue, warring intelligence agencies, breathtaking scenery, stunning stunts, and the AI threat. Heart of Stone has it all in the Netflix original film. So much potential. But things started going Pete Tong at the writers’ desks, as the focus is strictly superficial, fighting, cool gadgets, and a lightning pace, but there’s something missing. Heart, ironically. Heart is the name of an AI-based superweapon several government intelligence agencies are clamouring to get their hands on in a war of the operatives. Rachel (Gadot) a beautiful spy with martial arts and street fighting skills and her crew fly into a casino resort set terrifyingly atop a slim Italian Alpine peak. Partner Parker (Jamie Dornan) and she will swoop in and grab a mark. Rachel gets wind of other agencies and a woman of interest, protecting their target. Big fight. Six dead. She pretends to be injured and contacts a tech maestro, who literally conducts a giant hologram of the mountain to show her an empty parachute she can use to get out. Boss (Sophie Okonedo) rages at their incompetence; being part of her private goon squad she reminds Rachel, means “no relationships, no friends, no tête-à-têtes, what we do is too important”. Parker is not who he seems to be. More hostiles sow up and more fights. And so on. Gadot gives a physical performance worthy of a stunt person but is let down by lacklustre writing and directing. Constant, distracting fight scenes annoy, and somehow old-fashioned imagery of future AI can’t hold a candle to the scarier real-world implications of AI now. Glenn Close and B.D. Wong make appearances.