By Anne Brodie
It landed Tuesday and most of you have seen it. Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is long. The opening two acts of more or less static, multi-face exposition, followed by long car chases in Rome and boat-and-bridge chases in Venice would have benefited from a fastidious editor’s cuts. The third act more than makes up for lost momentum with its stupendous stunts that Tom Cruise reportedly rehearsed for months, and the motorcycle cliff-diving behemoth, nailed, cameras rolling, in 7 takes. OMG. That shock trauma silent scene flying into the Alpine vastness was the first order of shooting for obvious reasons. So we tip our hat to the greatest risk taker in Hollywood history, Mr. Cruise, who long ago surpassed early practitioners Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie wanted everything “practical”, i.e. not special effects, in a film that nudges us to fear AI. How timely! Breathtaking. Ethan Hunt and his IMF team hunt for a special dual key to open, well, they’re not sure what but know it has something to do with an artificial intelligence entity that has a mind of its own that is taking global control. It opens aboard an undetectable Russian submarine under the Arctic icecap in a short, sharp sequence that reminds us if we could ever forget, that bully Russia will do anything for the appearance of power, and that power is falling prey to AI. Women are important – Rebecca Ferguson returns as assassin Isla, and Hayley Atwell steps in as lone wolf Grace, a slippery thief out for herself at any cost. They’re difficult adversaries but Ethan needs them in order to kill the entity. If that is even possible. Now let’s talk about that special international appearance tour Cruise undertook to convince people to see MI7 IN THEATRES. He has a brilliant p.r. team. This is one of the greatest publicity stunts in recent history and as it turns out, the swan song for actors promoting their work. The SAG strike is on so no more promotional business for the foreseeable. And Tom made it just in time. Again, breathtaking.
Umberto Eco: A Library Of The World, a documentary on the late, magnificent Italian author whose books including The Name of the Rose (which he hated) put him in an elite class of thinkers, is an intellectual and visual delight. Davide Avide Ferrario gathers archival interviews and speaks with Eco’s family members and experts on Eco as a uniquely gifted journalist, critic, philosopher, professor of semiotics, medievalist, bibliophile, and best-selling author. His home in Milan housed 50 thousand books, given to Italy on his death, the lifetime collection of a multi-faceted bibliophile. There are new books, classics, low-brow books, esoterica, 500-year-old volumes that look new, older books that look old, ancient drawings charts, curiosities, magic spells, divination, elaborate jokes, the complete Charlie Brown, a big book featuring a glass receptacle on the spine holding dog’s testicles. He breaks down a painting of the Last Supper into shocking revelations. He and his books hold a vast spectrum of what he calls Vegetal knowledge, as opposed to instantly forgettable, not-knowledge of electronica or Mineral knowledge. Eco’s bite-sized, dead-on and entertaining philosophical declarations are a constant and I’ll save them for you to watch. I want T-shirts bearing his slogans. They’ll impress my intellectual superiors! At Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.
Thaddeus O’Sullivan gathers a remarkable cast for The Miracle Club. The gently dramatic tale stars Laura Linney, Kathy Bates, Agnes O’Casey, and the beloved Maggie Smith as Irish villagers and in Linney’s case, as Chrissie, an American returning home to Ballyfermot for her estranged mother’s funeral. As small villages go, everyone knows everyone’s generational business. Her presence shocks the villagers; she hadn’t visited her mother in forty years, fleeing the village as a pregnant teenager; she feels the need to acknowledge her mother. A small clique forms – Lily, Eileen, Sheila, and Dolly, a young mother in need of a miracle for her young son – and they’re curious to know what happened to Chrissie’s baby. She resigns herself to that but doesn’t make excuses, she’s over it and Americanised. The four win tickets to the sacred French town of Lourdes where they will pray for healing miracles for their various personal reasons, accompanied by their their patient priest and Chrissie. Experiences at the spring where the Virgin Mary was spotted in 1868 will be life-changing. A charming time capsule of rural life in 1960s Ireland, and a tale of forgiveness and love. In theatres.
The winning and emotional documentary Once Upon A Time In Uganda features a group of filmmakers in a ghetto outside Kampala that makes a global mark despite endless obstacles. They’ve accomplished something astounding. Ramon Films makes a film a month with a budget of around $200 each for a total of 48 films in eleven years, under visionary Nabwana I.G.G. a.k.a. “Isaac”. His idols growing up in abject poverty were action heroes Jackie Chan, and Chuck Norris – and he determined to make his own action films. Locals act for free, the crew makes its own props including a life-size helicopter, fake assault rifles, and bullets, cameras, and cranes, they own a green screen and have choppy access to the internet when electricity is available. It’s like an ongoing arts and crafts workshop that happens to make films audiences love, combing horror, gore, action, and extraordinary special effects; they’re campy, exciting, and action-packed and have been viewed millions of times on YouTube under Official Wakaliwood. Doc co-directors Cathryne Czubek and Hugo Perez follow American Alan Hofmanis, a New York film programmer, publicist, and filmmaker as he flies to Uganda to see the team in action. He partners with Isaac, sells his NYC apartment and car and gives his mother his cat, and stays. Alan hopes to take Wakaliwood global and what happens over the next few years is just as astounding as the films. Strap yourselves in and dodge the fake bullets. This is FUN. In select theatres.
FX The Bear, the close-quartered portrait of a diner and the people who give it life launches its second season and as expected, it’s terrific. One of the best short-form series around lifted by superb writing, performances, and a deep sense of energy and immediacy. The characters are right there, as though the action is happening now, in life, and we are in the room. Jeremy Allen White, Ebon Moss Bachrach, Ayo Edebiri, Lionel Boyce, Liza Colón-Zayas, New Brunswick, and Matty Matheson return and, this season, Jamie Leigh Curtis figures. Carmy plans to rebuild the Chicago Beef, must raise money, agree on the direction, and reign in a nearly crazed and broken Richie. Carmy, the former fine dining NY chef plans to refine the menu and sends the sous to culinary school – he’s ambitious and seeing it through despite his own and Richie’s through-the-roof anxiety. Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney has great promise in taking charge and supporting Carmy, a voice of positive wisdom. And what ho! Cameos by Will Poulter, Sarah Paulson, and ta-da!- Jamie Lee Curtis, as Carmy’s bristling mother Donna will put a heartbroken spell on you, she’s that darn great. Emo music doesn’t hurt. The Bear is open for business. And a shoutout to Canada’s French’s ketchup, winner of the recent ketchup wars with the US. Disney+ July 19.
Netflix‘ sexy, expletive-heavy comedy series Survival Of The Thickest stars Michelle Buteau as Mavis, a fashion stylist at a crossroads in life. She catches her seemingly perfect beau Jacque (Taylor Selé) en flagrante, pauses for thirty seconds, and moves out. Platonic bestie Khalil (Tone Bell) is by her side and helps her find a crummy NYC apartment then takes her out to celebrate being free of That Man. However, things are looking up on the professional front. A pull-it-out-of-your-hat move saves a photo shoot and lands her a move up the ladder from assistant stylist to Stylist and dresser to spoiled star Natasha (Garcelle Beauvais) who doubts her, but is won over by Mavis’ talent; she dresses her in spectacular fashion for an event and her dog’s wedding. Jacques shows up to shoot them and worm his way back into her heart but no dice. It’s time for Mavis to play around a bit and boy does she and her circle play around! But no one comes up to snuff. Buteau’s plus size is a positive aspect of the series, matched by her charm and warm engaging manner. She’s a star! Silly stuff but it’s a joy to watch her work. Full of good intentions and smart, we hope the best comes her way, whatever that may be.
The Afterparty continues its winning ways in Season 2 on Apple TV+. Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) is called to a country estate where a wedding has been interrupted by the brutal murder of the groom. The wedding party must stay in a remote elegant home (Agatha Christie style) while clues and movements are determined. Sam Richardson, Zoë Chao, John Cho, Paul Water Hauser, Elisabeth Perkins, Ken Jeong, Poppy Liu, and Jade Wu lead the guest/cast list and as in Season 1, each episode is shot using unique techniques within a certain genre. One episode is The Sequel harking back to S1, and another a Regency era, soft focus Bridgerton social romance. Each episode is focused on a single character bound by the murder and Det. Danner’s inquiries. And besides all these formalities, it’s very funny, sometimes dark, sometimes super silly, and altogether roundly entertaining. People show up to throw a spanner in the works, including the wrong family picked up at the airport and Ulysses alone on horseback. The Afterparty is a truly iconoclastic and witty series in a sea of murder mystery shows and absolutely essential viewing.
THB Black Mirror freaks me the heck out, hence my late report on S6. Netflix’s evil twin Streamberry, a dark streamer with apparently amoral leadership will do anything for viewing numbers. Documentaries it produces appear to inspire mayhem and murder, reminding us of the corruption and mayhem and murder Netflix viewers eat up – reality shows, true crime documentaries – Streamberry’s exceptionally witty takes on these popular subjects take us right into the opposing worlds of advanced AI and crackly pioneering tech – both agents of, yes, murder and mayhem. Buoyed by diverse international casts and locations, the series is multifaceted, united by the firm grip it holds on that scared, dark portion of our brains. Episode 1 features Canada’s own Annie Murphy Joan, a corporate boss who to her horror happens upon a Streamberry series about her just moments behind reality. Salma Hayek plays the lead in Joan is Awful, a cringey expose of a corporate boss who does a no-no in church. Ultimately Murphy and Hayek’s characters, now as themselves, hunt down a quantum computer, AI that creates Joan is Awful, (in mere moments) to end it. Well. Hmm. Another episode looks at a small Scottish fishing village once a tourist hot spot now empty due to a local outrage – torturing and killing people in his basement. Two young documentarians show up to make a nature doc but decide to focus on the killer, to their eternal regret. Their medium, an ancient VCR, a couple of videotapes, and an entree to the murder chamber; the old tech brings to life the creep factor. And oh, so much more designed to throw us off our feed for a week while feeding our anxiety about AI. Well, done Streamberry. I salute you. On Netflix. 🙂