By Anne Brodie
Jialing Zhang’s disturbing documentary detailing China’s 20 years of smart tech surveillance of its citizens is the stuff of nightmares. Award-winning festival hit Total Trust reveals through secret footage the ways and means authorities pursue grudges against citizens who speak too freely, via tech advances like face and voice recognition. Movement is strictly controlled. People pass through entry stations and show their Social Scorecards to prove they are citizens in good standing. The machine will deny those with the wrong colour codes; those who break “social laws” like “spreading rumours online” “petitioning the government”, “inciting subversion”, etc. Police will swarm a subject, camp on their doorstep, secretly install extra cameras when they’re out and report movements. The Sharp Eyes programs involve volunteer night patrols, reporting on a person “putting the garbage out” and so forth, as part of the 2015 709 crackdowns. Journalist Sophia Xueqin Huang, an early champion of the #MeToo movement in in prison for “inciting subversion of state power” but carries on her activism. A woman and her child are kept in the dark about her lawyer husband’s fate; he was taken away when 300 lawyers “disappeared”. There’s a heartbreaking scene in which she travels 2000 miles to his prison, and she and her son cry out to the walls “Are you dead or alive?”. Why all this? The Communist government’s spoken aim is to “create a safe environment and fulfillment of happiness”. The details of this dangerously stark doc are beyond imagination in the cruelty, hatred, and mistrust in which China holds its people. Theatres.
The late Cary Grant’s fourth ex-wife Dyan Cannon and their daughter Jennifer have produced an intriguing four-parter on the life of one of the classic film era greats. BritBox‘ Archie stars Jason Isaacs as Grant and Laura Aikman as Cannon and begins in Bristol, England, circa 1908. Born Archibald Leach into poverty, neglect, and violent abuse, the boy learned early to fend for himself. He was told his mother died and his father attempted to sell him. He took matters into his own hands. At 13 Archie joined a vaudeville show as a stiltwalker and juggler; he was agile and a natural onstage. The troupe had great success overseas in New York; he stayed and began a journey to a better life. Once in Hollywood, he was renamed Cary Grant, his image was refined, “always dress well whatever the circumstances” was the one good piece of advice his father gave him. A star was born. Grant’s grace, charm, and talent made him a global superstar. He’d been married three times and Sophia Loren was refusing his calls by 1961, and he was ready for a new woman. His agent found him Dyan Cannon whom he’d seen on TV. She was dubious and a smart cookie, knowing his track record but became his lover. Grant discovered later in life that his mother Elsie (Harriet Walker) was indeed alive and in a mental hospital; he met her and devoted himself to caring for her as long as she lived. Grant’s life, as sad as it was, never tarnished his suave, debonair image or dimmed his popularity. Learn about this man and his assumed life, and along the way, meet Alfred Hitchcock and his savvy wife Alma at their famous blue dinner, Grace Kelly, Mae West, Doris Day, George Burns, and Danny Kaye among others, and experience the glorious fakery of Hollywood and the man who lives on in its constellation of greats.
Alexander Dumas’ 17th-century actioner Three Musketeers is largely forgotten these days. But Martin Bourboulon’s award-winning The Three Musketeers – Part I: D’Artagnan, a hit overseas, has landed in theatres and on TVOD here to be followed by Part 2. Press notes call it “dangerously sexy” with its cast of French actors including François Civil, Vincent Cassel, Romain Duris, Pio Marmaï, Louis Garrel, François Civil, Lyna Khoudri, Eva Green, and Vicky Kreips. It’s 1627 and D’Artagnan is in Paris looking for men who attacked and left him for dead and buried when he attempted to save a woman from kidnapping. He teams up with King Louis XIII’s musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, at a difficult time of social upheaval. The King has no heir and the country is about to enter a brutal religious war; inflammatory times with the strong possibility that England will invade in France’s days of weakness. D’Artagnan sees the woman he attempted to save in the street, called Constance Bonacieux who happens to be the Queen’s confidant. Can he trust her? England-backed Protestants are rising up in France but the King refuses to take action despite exhortations from Cardinal Richelieu. One morning, D’Artagnan awakens next to a woman stabbed to death and planted in his bed; he’s imprisoned and due to be beheaded. The film’s apparent big budget allows for plenty of elaborate scenes. There’s an outstanding battle sequence in a forest -soldiers on horseback swinging swords and guns, staged with complex choreography shot with a single hand-held camera. Incredible! The machinations of the French court, its enemies and protectors, a wide network of spies and the Three Musketeers’ derring-do bring Dumas’ novel to vivid life.
Candace and I talk about our favourite Christmas movies each year. Candace loves upbeat, timely and female-centric films. She’s currently favouring Noelle starring Anna Kendrick as Santa’s daughter who must pick up the reigns and do the Christmas Eve route when her brother chickens out.
My Christmas faves are firmly set back in Hollywood’s golden age – The Man Who Came to Dinner, Holiday Inn, Miracle on 34th Street and especially Christmas in Connecticut starring Barbara Stanwyck as a Martha Stewart-type home-keeping columnist who can’t cook. She goes to great lengths to keep up appearances when her boss and a war hero show up at her borrowed country farm expecting Christmas hospitality. Terrifically funny goings-on to deceive and preserve her reputation enliven this beautiful-looking story and there’s a borrowed baby.