Hungarian director László Nemes follows his Oscar-winning debut feature Son of Saul with a challenging pre-WWI story set in Budapest and Vienna, Sunset takes place at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s prominence, in a prestigious women’s hat store with connections to royalty. Irisz (Juli Jakab) the legal heir to the Leiter fortune and store which thrives again following a devastating fire that killed her parents, returns looking for a job and her missing brother. The elite store is a magnet for unrest as citizens starve and strike, and her presence raises troubling issues and spectres. The search for her brother who is accused of murder puts Irisz in harm’s way. As she rises in the ranks at Leiter’s, she’s given access to the Palace where she witnesses depravity and corruption. There’s a massacre at the Countess’ mansion, revolutionaries attack her and constant obstacles frustrate her search. Nemes follows Irisz from behind as she rushes through the streets of Budapest and Vienna as the Empire crumbles, and takes is to a stunning conclusion. The air is thick with violence, a living nightmare as social and political structures shift underfoot. It’s claustrophobic and puzzling, it’s challenging, intellectually and emotionally and Nemes’ rebellion feels dangerously authentic. Pay attention.
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Ron Mann’s new Carmine Street Guitars is a treat for music fans, a close up look at Rick Kelly’s Greenwich Village guitar shop, a hub for musicians and the master craftsman who happens to be a gifted storyteller. He lights up describing in his tiny, crowded atelier and those who’ve trod its boards – like Bob Dylan and Patti Smith – as her guitarist Lenny Kaye shows up. Kelly’s firmly fixed in the past, he has no computer, he handcrafts his instruments from old wood boards taken from historical New York spots – McGurk’s Suicide Bar and Manhattan’s reputed oldest bar McSorley’s, loves to tells stories from the happening music scene of Greenwich Village forty years ago, while his ancient mother runs the business desk. Mann shot over five days, capturing Eszter Balint, Nels Cline (Wilco), Kirk Douglas (The Roots), Jim Jarmusch, Marc Ribot and Charlie Sexton. Kelly’s wonderful stories and knowledge of botany, history and memories of Jimi Hendrix playing the hood are charming. Not surprisingly, slick real estate developers show up and get Kelly’s subtle boot. This is a wonderful time!
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Claus Räfle’s docudrama The Invisibles reveals the little-known true story of Jews who hid in plain sight in Berlin at the height of Hitler’s Final Solution programme, and went on to survive the war. Via nerves of steel, will power and a finely turned secret network, 7000 Jews stayed behind when the rest were rounded up and sent to death camps. Goebbels declared the city “free of Jews”, when in fact they were working, shopping, going to restaurants, sailing, dancing, and mixing with the general population. We follow four who strategically saved their own necks and worked tirelessly to help others, providing fake passports, setting up secret soup kitchens, even sending some back their old jobs. Hard scenes of children being herded onto trains, heart pounding moments when discovery seems imminent, as some Jews are revealed as Gestapo snitches while they endure the terrible wait for an end to the war. You can’t make this up. Just shows how strong is human will.
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Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell are great talents; they are in their own stratosphere and as a complicated couple, in FX Fosse/Verdon you can’t take your eyes off them. Some sort of chemical fission makes them unforgettable. Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon, filmmaker/choreographer and Broadway dancer were tops in their fields for decades and married. They fired one another’s ambition and reach over five decades, working with the best – playwright and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, Joan and Neil Simon, Hal Prince, Liza Minelli, Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, Gene Krupa and a very young Jerry Orbach. Then Fosse took German dancer Ann Reinking under his wing and into his bed and changed everything: Reinking wanted to be Gwen. The story’s interesting enough given the scenes on-set of the making of Cabaret, but the eventual untangling and healing of their relationship, the rarified air of elite Broadway, and stellar performances by Rockwell and Williams make it sing. And the dancing!
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Acorn delivers a brand-new original drama series on April 8th a delightful and engaging British murder-in-the-village series Queens of Mystery. The four Stone women have a lot in common. They’ve returned to Wildemarsh their ancestral village, three sisters to write more award-winning murder mysteries while their niece begins work as an actual police detective at the local constabulary. Beth, Cat and Jane Stone use their combined knowledge of crime to help Detective Sergeant Matilda Stone solve cases, much to her chagrin. She’s almost thirty but her aunts keep a close eye, set her up on unwanted dates and whisper in her ear when someone’s mowed down before their time, which is pretty often in picturesque Wildemarsh. The Stones are seeking answers in the disappearance of the fourth sister, Mathilda’s mother, years earlier. In the first episode, Beth is jailed under suspicion of committing a double murder as fans gather for the annual Edgar Allen Poe Appreciation Society Awards. Suffice to say, an ever-present raven keeps watch over Wildemarsh as the Stones attempt to turn over every … stone … to prove Beth innocent. Second episode, Cat’s rock band reunites in an eye-popping modern home on the heath when their manager drops dead. And as you’d expect for a British village murder mystery, the scenery and art direction are swoon-worthy. This series is def binge-worthy.
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Sir David Attenborough narrates the stunning new nature series Our Planet premièring April 5th on Netflix. It’s an eight-parter that took four years, starting with Forests, Deserts and Grasslands and Waking Giants, taking us to some of the Earth’s most far-flung places to witness natural life as we’ve never seen it before, via advanced technology and endless patience. Forests required camera people to live in box-like enclosures in Eastern Russia for months on end during two brutal winters, to capture images of the elusive White Siberian Tiger. In over 37 thousand combined hours, they netted just 35 precious images, that’s commitment. The crew later captured the first ever footage of orangs – using tools to eat food – in the steamy jungles of Sumatra. A growing herd of almost extinct horses proves itself viable and thriving in the Mongolian Steppes, a boon to all, considering wild animals are declining in general. Scientists are keeping an eye on the herd and keeping it safe ensuring they have space. A devastating sequence takes place in Greenland where glaciers are rapidly breaking up – before our eyes. There’s a scene in which an estimated 75 million tonnes of ice crash into the sea in erratic and majestic, weird movements. Our Planet is powerful and sad and MUST-SEE viewing.
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Interview: Adam Chapman and Keith Scholey talk ‘Our Planet’
A packed London 02 Arena jumps to its feet to praise Kevin Hart in his one-man stand-up concert Irresponsible. The audience is in complete harmony as Hart riffs on marriage, fatherhood, keeping order in the house and other homely topics in Netflix’s new doc. Hart prays vigorously for a good show as he’s wheeled out onstage inside a packing crate, and he gets one, hitting topics that seem to head over the line but never go there, like kids witnessing him having sex with his wife and how he deals, his daughter telling him her period’s arrived, the ins and outs of porn, a staring contest with a friends’ baby that causes him to flee, that same baby evading blame for the stinky mess on the floor, playing board games with friends. It’s a lightning fast evening with Kev that will have you howling but be warned, blue, blue, the air is blue.
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Horror wunderkind Jordan Peele picks up Rod Serling’s eerie mantle with a new Twilight Zone sci-fi series on CITY TV and for me it brought back fond memories of the original episode of sharks endlessly circling the old mansion on the hill. There’s the same, relentless, nerve snapping, repetitive tension in the premiere episode. Mother and son are having lunch in a diner before the drive to his new college. Mum videos him accidentally spraying himself with ketchup but when she rewinds, time somehow blows up and there’s no ketchup spill. They hit the road and a white officer stops them to ask if they have weapons in a clear example of racial profiling. The camera’s running. Rewinding blows the incident into thin air. Later they book into a motel – mom is off balance after a series of frightening rewind incidents. The cop shows up. Scene from a future life, scene from the diner, being stopped by the cop. Don’t look now. Take the back roads. There’s the cop. An underground slave tunnel. Cop’s there. Arriving at university. Cop’s there. Interesting timely subject matter, a bit stark and takes it time, but it gets under the skin and I’m intrigued to see more.
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A big boost to serious film fans everywhere April 8 when the prestigious Criterion Channel launches bringing the DVD distributor into the streaming world. Its Criterion Collection and Janus Films owns an unrivaled library of prestige films dating from the beginning of cinema to the present day. The entire library will be available, as well as daily thematic programming, guest curators, original docs and classic and contemporary films unavailable anywhere else. The service opens with Columbia Noir, eleven hard-boiled classics from Columbia Pictures from Fritz Lang, Jacques Tourneur, Don Siegel, and Blake Edwards.
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The programme Directed by David Lynch offers with four features and a selection of shorts.
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The permanent Collection includes Buñuel, Jane Campion, Jean Cocteau, Joel and Ethan Coen, Carl Théodore Dreyer, Federico Fellini, John Ford, Samuel Fuller, Jean-Luc Godard, Alfred Hitchcock, Shohei Imamura, Jim Jarmusch, Akira Kurosawa, David Lean, Mike Leigh, David Lynch, Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse, Yasuhara Ozu, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Kelly Reichardt, Susan Seidelman, Ousmane Sembène, Paolo Sorrentino, Jacques Tati, François Truffaut, Agnès Varda, Jean Vigo, Andrzej Wajda, Orson Welles, Wim Wenders, and Edward Yang, among many others. P.S. This is where Filmstruck landed.
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TIFF and Human Rights Watch co-present the 16th annual Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival on now through April 10 at Lightbox. Jennifer Baichwal & Nicholas de Pencier who made the environmental battle cry trilogy of Manufactured Landscapes, Watermark and Anthropocene: the Human Epoch will be honoured opening night.
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Featured films cover hot points of our times – free speech, LGBTQ+ rights, religious freedoms and the effects of censorship on democracy. Brazil, France, Germany, China (Hong Kong), Malaysia, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States. Discussions with filmmakers, Human Rights Watch researchers, or subject-matter experts will be held around the films. Opening night features the Berlin Peace Film Award winner and Oscar-shortlisted documentary The Silence of Others. On the victims of Francisco Franco and the fight for legal reparations against the Spanish dictator’s surviving fascist henchmen.
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“This year’s lineup showcases essential stories, giving audiences a chance to take the story off the screen, examine the injustices, and spotlight the heroes working on these crises every day,” says Helga Stephenson, Chair of the Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival. “Our festival offers a unique opportunity to dive deeper into these issues, aided by experts, filmmakers, and activists. It is designed not only to inspire people to join the cause, but also to help them understand how best to take action themselves. We’re especially looking forward to honouring Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier and their critical work in the field.” A few highlights – Ghost Fleet, examining slavery in the global fishing The Cleaners, an inside look at people hired to moderate online content for corporations and the closing night film Roll Red Roll, the true story of a whistle-blowing blogger who exposed a community’s complicity in a rape and the rape culture. For the full lineup, visit www.tiff.net/humanrightswatch.
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