By Anne Brodie
Let’s start with a gem. Just caught up with AppleTV+‘s inspiring documentary Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie. One of the biggest young stars of his time continues the good life with his wife Tracy Pollan, and children Sam, Schyler, Esme, and Aquinnah Fox while living with Parkinson’s. Fox starred in some of the most successful films of the 80s and 90s but is now a leading advocate for research and awareness. He was diagnosed 32 years ago; today has trouble walking, remaining upright, speaking, and a host of limitations. None have quelled the sparkle and joie de vivre I knew interviewing him during his film reign. This hero is unstoppable, he will crack a wry joke, and make a hard-earned pronouncement even as he fights to operate his body. He walks on his toes, accompanied by his physical therapist who must remind him to slow down. Fox was never one to slow down, that inimitable spirit, spunk and bright energy,” never still”. Fox’ career began in the Canadian TV series Leo and Me before moving to Hollywood to battle it out on his own. The rest is history – he was a smash (and continued to live in a 17 x 12-foot apartment into his success (Canadian!)). During one three-month period, he shot future blockbusters at night and the hit series Family Ties during the day. In his current chapter, he glories in the love and support of Pollen and lets nothing get him down, accepting and dealing with reality, buoyed by that deep optimism that made him sparkle all these years. Still is the most honoured documentary so far this year and with reason; it’s his phenomenal gift to us. Fox wrote and Davis Guggenheim directs.
Steve James’ documentary A Compassionate Spy paints a dire picture of global conflict in World War II, and how an eighteen-year-old impacted warfare. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the West looked up to the Soviet Union. Stalin’s Soviet Union was our WWII ally, battling to conquer Hitler alongside Britain – that was before the world knew he was responsible for millions of citizen murders. Germany was ramping up its weaponry but the US had an ace up its sleeve. J Robert Oppenheimer’s desert installation at Los Alamos, New Mexico was ground zero for the creation of the biggest weapon of all time – the implosion /atomic/nuclear bomb. The Manhattan Project raced to compete and test it, to beat Germany to the punch. Hall, a brilliant Harvard physics student was on the team and witnessed the devastating Trinity test implosion; he was aghast, realising the bomb’s profound implications. He secretly handed sensitive information over to Soviet reporters and officials in Manhattan in order to stop nuclear war; if countries were equally armed, there was less chance of a holocaust, he reckoned. He’d been a longtime Communist sympathiser and was now an informant, a spy, with the help of his Harvard friend Saville “Savy” Sax. They were surveilled by the FBI and intimidated but were not imprisoned; Hall ultimately fled to the UK where he died in 1999. The doc features incredible archival footage of workdays at the Los Alamos lab and the test, his wife Joan’s powerful interviews, his daughter’s memories, and Sax’ disapproving son’s reflections, adding to the emotional and moral complexity and his high-risk heroism. August 4 Toronto’s Hot Docs Cinema and Vancouver’s Vancity.
Busy actor-director and producer Randall Park’s sassy rom-com Shortcomings, based on a graphic novel by screenwriter Adrian Tomine take digs at the concept of “representation” for Asians in this bittersweet story of a guy and a girl. Ben (Justin H. Min) is an aspiring filmmaker who lives with his girlfriend Miko (Ally Maki) in a sort of lukewarm way. She runs the local Asian film festival and hopefully, she’ll get the film he intends to make, seen. He has a soft spot for blue-eyed blondes and watches a lot of porn featuring them. His best friend is Alice (Sherry Cola), and he tells her all. Miko knows something is off in their relationship but heads to NYC for a three-month internship, leaving him to his curiosities. He and Alice are connected in ways he hasn’t found with straight women. All that aside, he isn’t a sympathetic lead, he’s brittle, dishonest, mouthy, naive, and self-absorbed, but we follow him out of curiosity hoping he’ll learn. Park’s cinematic swagger is impressive and artful and his choice of music is cutting edge, plus he appears in a cameo as a waiter. The film’s jokey, witty, au courant, and lots of good things but I followed Ben against my will. In theatres.
Special Ops: Lioness on Paramount+ now follows Zoe Saldana’s Joe, a high-ranking officer in the CIA’s war on terror, who leads a life of stark contrasts and chaos. On the job, she oversees the training of field agents to infiltrate enemy quarters, gather intelligence, and survive capture and torture without breaking and surrendering information. Her newest operative Cruz, (Laysla De Oliveira) has a rebellious streak that needs taming. While running alone at night, Cruz is kidnapped, confined, and graphically tortured by masked armed men who beat and water cannon her mercilessly. Joe’s husband Neal (Dave Annable)a surgeon struggles with the reality that half his patients die; he must tell the parents of a six-year-old girl with brain cancer that she has mere months to live and there is nothing he can do. Zoe’s teenage daughter Kate (Hannah Love Lanier) tests both parents, appearing to resent them. Work-life balance is a laughable concept for Joe – it’s non-existent, and so she carries on, overseeing intentional brutality in torture chambers for the good of the country,- in secret- and putting salve on the wounds of family and friends, which include Nicole Kidman’s Kaitlyn, and doing what so many of us do, in efforts to please everyone. I wish there were moments of positivity and reflection because Joe’s life demands relief from pitched drama and so do ours, needs rest. However, in lieu of that, there’s always Morgan Freeman! From creator Taylor Sheridan,
Prime Video‘s psychological thriller series The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart opens with a young girl growing up in the desert outback of Australia. Aice (Alyla Browne) and her parents lead a back-to-the-earth life out of their love of nature and poverty and as it turns out, paranoia. The Hart’s rickety cabin barely stands but the stunning views as far as the eye can see make up for it and inspire Alice. But she lives in fear. Her physically abusive father beats Alice and her mother to keep them on a tight leash. But one day Alice bravely steals away into town to see the library for the first time; an empathetic librarian notices she’s in a nightgown and severely bruised and calls the police. Her parents are questioned but are not forthcoming. Soon after a fire breaks out and her parents are killed. Enter Alice’ grandmother June (Sigourney Weaver) whom she never met, as she’s haunted by visions of the afterlife and memories of her mother trying to drown herself as she becomes fixated on mythical selkies (human/seals) of Scottish lore. She is taken to her grandmother’s home /flower farm where she reads old letters and discovers she’s been fed a pack of lies by her family, that “hope is blind”. Grown Alice (Alycia Debnam-Carey) explores these deep familial mysteries, reading the lore and ancient meanings and warnings of flowers – will she repeat her mother’s tough lessons? As extreme as the situations are, it unfolds with subtlety and compassion, eschewing melodrama. Based on the bestseller by Holly Ringland.