By Anne Brodie
Oscar-winning director Paolo Sorrentino’s epic family saga Hand of God set in his hometown of Naples, Italy is a soaring, joyous, tragic and uniquely beautiful cinematic experience, in select theatres Dec. 3 and on Netflix Dec. 15. It opens with an extraordinary extended drone pan over the city of Naples, its surrounding cliffs and hills, in total silence, then swooping down to the city beach and buildings from which emanate the sounds of human activity. Teenaged Fabietto Schisa takes us on a journey living the ups and downs of his massive extended family, each one more spirited than the last. Stunning set pieces are dazzling, inside a grand home, an enormous crystal chandelier half hanging, half-fallen symbolizing the chaos that lies ahead. The “whore”, Fabietto’s aunt is touched by the Little Monk, to make her fertile, and her enraged husband beats her. His parents’ loving, warm connection lifts the opening act, but we learn his father carries on a decades-long affair with a mistress who is now harassing his wife. Fabietto looks for ways to escape his troubled family and enjoy being young; he finds them. The family, the entire city, is ecstatic to learn soccer great Diego Maradona is joining the Naples team, but that joy’s soon kneecapped by a terrible family tragedy. As far-reaching as is the story, it unfolds naturally and subtlety, a slow burn beautiful to look at with questions are answered ever so subtley. Stars Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert and Luisa Ranieri. Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Betti Pedrazzi, Biagio Manna, Ciro Capano, Enzo Decaro, Lino Musella, Sofya Gershevich.
Riz Ahmed’s superior acting chops take a dark turn in Encounter on Amazon Prime Video. He is Malick, an American Marine just returned from his tenth tour of duty, attempting to settle back into society. He has two young sons (Lucian-River Chauhan and Aditya Geddada) but is estranged from his ex who’s now with another man. He’s on a secret, frontline mission to investigate a deadly mosquito virus emanating from woodlands and warns his ex. That night, he bundles up the boys and takes off we know not where. He tells them about the alien threat that’s coming to earth, “extra-terrestrial micro-organisms are inside of us, using us as host”. He treats them as he was treated in the military, with rigidity and laser-focus, and he’s armed. Police stop him and he violently evades them. By now the boys are frightened, they’re not being properly fed, they sense something is amiss and realise they’re on the run. Lots of crazy ensues even as his empathetic parole officer (Octavia Spencer) tries to nail down his whereabouts. Encounter looks at ex-military who suffer from PTSD when they aren’t cared for on return from the frontlines; it’s an enduring issue following all wars, as victims of stress fall through the cracks with ruinous effects on themselves and others. Directed by Michael Pearce co-starring Janina Gavankar and Rory Cochrane.
HBO‘s original four-episode limited series Landscapers, starring Emmy-winner Olivia Colman and David Thewlis is a jaw-dropping surrealist journey, based on a true story. Chris and Susan Edwards live in France in high anxiety. He can’t get a job, and she wears a fixed smile but is in a fugue state, and no wonder. They’ve fled their Nottingham home, where police dug up two bodies, identified as Chris’ parents. To exacerbate matters, Susan is emptying their meagre savings on Gary Cooper western movie memorabilia, an obsession connected to happier times as a child. They’ve strangely become pen pals with French actor Gerard Depardieu, and exist in grandiose fantasy that includes him, terrified about their hopeless reality. Meanwhile, Nottingham neighbours report to police they saw Chris burying something in the Edwards’ garden before they “went abroad”. A masterful script and flights of fantasy built into the story and performed on grotesque stages are enchanting and nerve-rattling, the overall effect is a disconnect from reality – the painful artifice of pretending things are fine. Landscapers is uniquely appealing, horrifying – a masterwork. And as ever, Colman and Thewlis are outstanding. Begins Dec 6 on Crave. Don’t miss it.
BritBox‘s North American female-centric detective procedural The Tower, based on Kate London’s first novel Post Mortem is a pulse-pounder! Three gripping episodes find Metropolitan Police Detective Sarah Collins (Gemma Whelan) and Steve Bradshaw (Jimmy Akingbola whom you may remember from Kate & Koji) following a tragic and gruesome pair of suspicious deaths. A veteran London policeman and a 15-year-old Muslim girl somehow fall off the roof of an apartment tower to their deaths below. Responders find a rookie police officer Lizzie Adama (Tahirah Sharif) on the roof in shock, holding a little boy dressed as a bear. Lizzie runs off, their only witness as Det. Collins doggedly pursues the truth, a difficult job as she uncovers systemic police corruption yet must work within it for justice. The dead girl’s father, terrified that his family will be mistreated the way they were in the country they fled, tells a horrifying story about a cop and Lizzie’s potentially career-ending secret turns the investigation upside down. The villain of the piece, D.I. Shaw’s (Emmett J Scanlan) tentacles are everywhere, misleading the team – what is his involvement? As intricate and challenging as the series is, storywise, a special shoutout to Whelan a renowned British comedienne, dancer and actor, as a dour Collins fighting multiple battles including misogyny, bigotry against LGBTQ+, and crime, and keeps it together on the job. Home’s a different story.
At the opposite end of the complexity scale comes Netflix‘ LGBTQ+ Christmas card romcom Single All the Way the story of a boy who loves a boy who can’t cope. It’s the holiday season and Peter (Michael Urie) convinces his best friend and roomie Nick (Philemon Chambers) to travel from Los Angeles to small-town New Hampshire to share his family Christmas. His mom and sister (Kathy Najimy and Jennifer Robertson from Schitt’s Creek) desperately want Peter to find a man, so mom sets him up on a date with a local gym guy. Peter and Nick pretend to be a couple to avoid all that meddling but it doesn’t fly and Peter finds himself out for a coffee with the trainer. There’s an attraction but something niggles at Peter. He can’t see what his nieces see, and that is that Peter loves Nick! The nieces are played by Madison Brydges and Alex Beaton (my favourite rising star, daughter of What She Said founder Kate Wheeler!). Jennifer Coolidge provides nutty, outsized unadulterated fun with her exuberant bar singing, funny remarks and the way she shouts at the children prepping for a Christmas choir and they love her anyway. There’s much goodwill and family love here, and Christmassy spirit to cheer any grinch, but the lesson is that the heart knows what the heart wants and in this family comedy, there is ample proof. Michael Urie’s charm is a good part of the show’s warmth, so snuggle in.
Alex Rider fans, Season 2 is HERE! from IMDb TV on Amazon Prime Video comes the next round of espionage fun and games for Rider, a remarkable young Brit and hero of Anthony Horowitz’ series of spy thrillers. Alex played by Otta Farrant, was raised spy-adjacent and absorbed a lot more than he knows including uncanny strengths in strategy, psychology, quick and true instinct and crazy fight skills. He and his friends and cohorts Tom (Brenock O’Connor) and Jack (Ronke Adekoluejo) live in a world we don’t recognise as regular folks, but which Alex neatly navigates. Now that he’s freed from Point Blanc, he decides normal life is what he wants. Not so fast, Alex. Alan Blunt (Stephen Dillane ) and the enigmatically named Mrs. Jones (Vicky McClure ) of the MI6 division The Department won’t let him. And a certain man keeps appearing. Is he connected to the murder of Alex’ uncle? A tech billionaire (they’re are taking cultural beatings these days) and hacker Smoking MIrror may well be the architects of a dastardly plot that is somehow connected to the video game Feathered Serpent. And what has all this to do with the Pentagon? Byzantine, young, fun and snappy, the series has become a global fan favourite – it doesn’t talk down to its audience and it has a whisper of truth. I suggest you watch S1 first.
Apple TV+‘s twentieth anniversary doc 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room is a revelation, a detailed look at the way things unfolded from President George W. Bush’s perspective, minute by minute through that harrowing day. Three thousand dead in The attack on the World Trade Center, a landmark event, the biggest terrorist assault on home soil that defined Bush’ legacy, marked a massive reset of American foreign policy and a cultural shift, the negative aspects of which divide the country still. Director Adam Wishart’s intimate doc, narrated by Jeff Daniels, features new interviews with Bush, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Carl Rove and more and insider information unknown until now. 2001 was a “summer of chatter” according to intelligence sources but nothing so bold was expected. The President was reading to public school children when a plane blasted through the first tower. Some of those kids, now grown, reveal what they saw and heard in that room. Bush says he didn’t want to scare the children, and was a ‘sitting duck’. He learned of further almost simultaneous attacks including one on the Pentagon; it was decided Bush couldn’t return to Washington. He was flown to Barksdale Military Base in Louisiana then on to Nebraska, and was videotaped experiencing what he calls “an emotional tsunami”. The wife of a member of his inner circle’s wife was in one of the four planes that crashed in Shanksville that day. The doc is powerful and for some may be triggering. For those too young to know about 9/11, it’s essential viewing and for those who can’t forget, also essential.
Great. Halle Berry’s taken her career in hand and directs herself in a tough drama called Bruised, which is how I felt watching. She plays a Julia Justice, a former boxing superstar now down on her luck, living with her manager/lover, an abuser whose booze problem has rendered him useless and angry. “Justice” proves she still has fight in her when she creams someone who picks a street brawl with her. Out of the blue, the son she gave away is handed to her as there is no one else to care for him, she seems to have no connection to him emotionally. Her luck turns when an up-and-coming manager (Toronto’s Shamier Anderson) offers her a lucrative title fight so she can get out of the hole she’s dug and provide her son with life. There are interesting characters and hats off to Halle for the physical effort she put into the role, wow, but it’s a 99% feel bad film which isn’t what people might choose to watch now. Berry’s goes way downmarket for the part, kudos, her versatility’s clear, she’s focused and lifelike, a strong performance, but unrelenting emotional and physical violence are tough to take despite an upbeat end. Now on Netflix.
Cheer up! There’s a reason why the super sappy, idealised, impossibly romantic holiday films from Hallmark are so popular – they work! OK, they are not fillums like The Power of the Dog or Roma or Parasite. They are joyously themselves and proud of it! Romantic, pretty, easy-going, pleasant escapism during tumultuous times and nice family-friendly viewing opps. Usually, a man and woman meet during the holiday season, are dazzled by one another but there are obstacles – maybe a murder, an event that has to be planned, a business venture nurtured, maybe a life switch, feuds in a decorative village, you unexpectedly fall for a Prince while on holiday, you get stuck in the frozen woods, the guy you like is moody, anything goes. Super Channel has its annual heart & home Christmas, one hundred Festive Flicks, 24 new holiday premieres, at the ready, and they share the same sparkling optimism, great clothes and hair, and gentle storylines. Prepare for some amazing scenery too. Take a look:
Christmas at Castlebury Hall Dec 17
Christmas in the Highlands Dec 20
Christmas in the Wilds, Dec. 22
But first – the festival kicks off tonight with Christmas Movie Magic
It Takes a Christmas Village, Dec. 4
heart & home Christmas runs through January 2nd. Super Channel is available across Canada ( on free preview and commercial-free!!) and on SCOD, Prime Video and AppleTV+. P.S. – Many titles were shot in Canada! For more info go to www.superchannel.ca/christmas