By Anne Brodie
Kristen Stewart is absolutely, freakishly, Diana, Princess of Wales in the imagined and much-anticipated biopic Spencer. Diana’s clipped, dense accented speech is perfect, her carriage, and physical tells and intense eyes, all revived in Stewart’s spookily realistic portrayal of a woman in crisis. It’s Christmas weekend at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk 1991. Diana is driving herself to the traditional Royal family celebrations and stops to find a scarecrow in the field where she grew up, at Park House, half a mile from the castle. Darren (Sean Harris) the chef and an ally, finds her – she says she’s lost; strange since she lived next door to the Estate most of her early life. Once at Sandringham, rigid protocols dating back God knows how long are de rigeur, but she can’t do what they want. She’s disabled by self-doubt and possible mental issues that are ignored. Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) barely makes eye contact when she finally appears. It seems par for the course; their marriage has all but ended, he’s with Camilla, who is there with him, wearing pearls identical to those he gave her. Diana is curtly reminded that no one is above tradition, and her adored sons William and Harry will join a bird shooting party- to her horror. Diana knows she has fallen out of favour. She’s haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn, who was executed by husband Henry VIII when he found a new woman. Diana is a ghostly, preternatural figure in the film, remote and agitated. She speaks in a strained whisper, seeks isolation and only comes alive with her sons. Her bulimia is common knowledge but strongly ignored, like her suicide attempts. They sew up her curtains because she was seen dressing for bed by someone outside. She rips them open. Stewart’s stalwart performance and the nerve-jangling script create an atmosphere of repressed terror. She’s told, “they are gentle with you and kind and they are worried. They want you to survive, and be the person you were ten years ago”. Yet no one speaks to her. Director Pablo Larrain researched Diana for two years with dozens of interviews, has created a ghostly masterpiece about who was then the most famous woman in the world. She’s losing her grip and there is no help coming to rescue her. Chilling, horrifying and says a lot about the near-criminal neglect she suffered. Theatres.
One of the most charismatic of screen actors today and the past few decades, Tom Hanks fills the heart in Finch, and it hurts because he evokes such love in an impossible situation. It also hurts because it’s a devastating portrait of Earth’s dead future if climate change proceeds unchecked. Hanks is Finch, a survivor of an apocalyptic environmental disaster that erased all known life except him and his dog Goodyear. They live in a protective abandoned factory shielded from the killing sun and he wears a sunscreen hazmat suit outdoors where the heat is unbearable. Human skin fries in second and there is nothing but hot sand and sandstorms. They live on ancient canned goods and hope. A small robot, Dewey digitizes Finch’s huge book collection to pass along culture to future passersby. An approaching superstorm forces them to leave but Finch hasn’t finished building a bigger, more complex machine. He has a terminal illness caused by the environment and not much time to live. The new robot (voice of Caleb Landry Jones), Jeff will be programmed to care for Goodyear when Finch dies. Sigh. Jeff is lifelike yet still a machine, a quick learner, and amusingly literal. The Hanks magic and optimism, the last days of the planet and the sweet dog and robot are all but overwhelming; it’s hard to watch but also endlessly about love. Not as sappy as the trailer would have you believe. On Apple TV+.
A-listers Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds are deadly frenemies in the spoofy espionage actioner Red Notice. That’s a term used by Interpol as an alert to capture major international criminals – including art thieves. The FBI’s top profiler John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson, who also produces) is after Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), a fast-talking habitual thief and prison escape master, and The Bishop (Gal Gadot) the world’s most wanted, most dangerous art thief, who crams down sweets while digging The Great British Bake-Off. Booth isn’t dangerous really, although his non-stop chatter / veiled insults could inspire violence. He and Hartley – the mountainous, elite lawman reluctantly team up to find Cleopatra’s elusive third Golden Egg. One of these golden and jewel-encrusted ancient treasures is in an arms dealer’s possession; the second, The Bishop’s, but does a third even exist? We’re catapulted to Rome, London, Bali, an underground Russian prison, Eygpt, Argentina, Valencia and Sardinia with appearances by Nazis, Ed Sheeran and a tiny, determined Interpol officer (Ritu Arya). Our heroes have nothing in common but daddy issues and must unite to finally go mano-a-mano with The Bishop and prove themselves the better persons. Elaborate gags and one-liners up the fun in this hokey, old-school wanna-be from writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber. In theatres across Canada and Netflix Nov 12.
Passing, from writer-director Rebecca Hall, is a uniquely square-framed black and white meditation on race in 1920’s Chicago, a visual work of art, Hall’s declaration of her biracial ancestry and a thoughtful study of female friendship. Tessa Thompson plays Irene, the Black wife of a Black doctor. She encounters a school friend Clare (Ruth Negga) she hasn’t seen in years. They take tea in a luxury hotel and share their stories and ways of life. Irene is Black and feels the need to lower her hat to cover her face in the white hotel, while Clare is mixed, passes for white and is married to a racist (Alexander Skarsgård). He says egregious things to both women much to Irene’s disgust, while Clare remains neutral. Irene and her husband (André Holland) spend time with Clare, sparking a tense, emotional three-way dilemma; she is always there because she is afraid of her husband’s violent temper and her fear of him discovering she’s not white. Passing looks at many issues in the twenties that exist today – the social, cultural and moral places we come from. It’s provocative, fresh and beautiful to look at in its harsh reality. Select theatres and on Netflix Nov. 10
Just to prove how interconnected we are on this earth comes Dominik Moll’s Only The Animals in theatres Toronto (Carlton) and Vancouver (Vancity) and other cities through the fall. A rural animal farming community Causse Méjean in the French Highlands, an online dating scammer in the Ivory Coast, a wealthy and influential Parisian woman found murdered on a farm and a handful of people in on the brink. Five chapters tell the stories of the farmer’s wife (Laure Calamy), her unstable lover (Damien Bonnard), her temperamental husband (Denis Menochet), a fragile French waitress (Nadia Tereszkiewicz), the scammer (Guy Roger “Bibisse” N’drin) and Evelyne, the Parisian, whose body is found frozen on the goat farm. At least partial stories, all bound together. Scenes are played, depending on whose chapter, from a certain point of view, and then another, a totally different read on the same scene in the next chapter. It is satisfyingly lifelike. The highlands offer beautiful wild vistas and life-threatening danger – its midwinter storm season, and the topography of the place, its crevasses, sharply turning narrow highways that cling to the rocky precipices. The cattle farmer’s wife is in love with a disturbed goat farmer; they have sex and he orders her to leave. Evelyne embarks on an affair with the waitress who becomes obsessed with her and becomes a problem, following her to the mountains. The cattle farmer’s looking for online sex, the woman he chooses is the African scammer who scores thousands of Euros with his phoney sob stories the farmer never questions. What happened to these people? Who killed Evelyne? The mystery thriller based on Colin Niel’s novel Seules les bêtes shreds the nerves, So fair warning.
Gaza Mon Amour from twin filmmakers Tarzan and Arab Nasser (Google these style icons) stars Succession’s Salim Dau as Issa, a Palestinian fisher who finds love in old age. He’s lonely and tells a friend his life should be over, that he prays to “live in another time with the people I love”. But he harbours a secret yen for Siham (Hiam Abbass ) the local dressmaker and doesn’t think he has a chance. One fateful day he pulls out of the ocean an erect statue of Dionysius; it inspires him, so after he hides it in his flat, he finds her stuck in the pouring rain and gives her his umbrella. Her mouth says thank you but her eyes say Green Light. The Nasser twins offer lively pictures of the community, the residents stress when they learn Israel has a new bomb, jokey street talk, whimsical moments and the solace and beauty of finding Siham shares Issa’s feelings – what joy. This gentle, funny and intimate portrait of well-lived lives on the Meditteranean is Palestine’s official entry for International Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards. On TVOD/Digital Nov. 9.
From the slums of Cuba to Montreal, Sin La Habana straddles two dramatically different worlds. A gifted ballet dancer (professional dancer Aki Yaghoubi) is fired from his troupe in Havana because he is difficult; a local shaman sacrifices a chicken amidst smoke, flying feathers and blood for luck as he ponders his next move. His lawyer girlfriend pushes him to have an affair with a Canadian tourist, win passage to Canada where they will reunite. He finds his mark, a naive French Canadian, and sweeps her away with his charm and good looks and the invitation comes soon – he’s to come to Montreal, all expenses paid and live with her. He acts his part flawlessly. He’s promised his girlfriend that he won’t look the woman in the eyes during sex. Things go wrong, threatening the scheme he’s cooked up – but what a journey! A visual treat, particularly the shaman ceremonies, and his powerful dancing. Contrasting voodoo drumming, historic Spanish and classical music of the ballet is captivating. Writer-director Kaveh Nabatian’s classically-inspired drama’s artistry and weight are remarkable. Nov 9 on TVOD/Digital
I like 13 Minutes – it’s a throwback to the old days when natural disaster films swept the multiplexes – Twister, Hard Rain, Volcano, The Day After Tomorrow, Lake Placid, accessible and fast, old-fashioned, no need to think too much as excitement builds around the coming catastrophe. Small communities are at risk, and heroes and villains emerge. Trace Adkins, Thora Birch, Peter Facinelli, Anne Heche, Amy Smart, Sofia Vassilieva, Paz Vega and Shaylee Mansfield star and director Lindsay Gossling co-wrote the film with storm chaser Travis Farncombe (both Canadian). Its Minnennewah, Elk Country in Heartland USA and a tornado’s coming four families will have to fight to survive, each with their own special concerns. Empty fields as far as the eye can see, thunder dancing on the horizon, turns out the TV weather people were not prepared for the magnitude of the storm that’s bearing down. Their pleas to get to safety fall on deaf ears, thirteen minutes to get to safety, birds circle wildly (seeing that a lot of that in films these days), a closeted gay man tells his parents and is rejected, a pregnant teen wants an abortion (Bible Belt) an immigrant puts a downpayment on a house, they all have things other than a storm on their minds. Farmworkers don’t speak English but raise the alarm, a deaf girl loses her hearing aids during a game at school, and a local politician and working mother is focused on those whose homes are destroyed and loses track of her deaf daughter. It’s ok but reminds us that climate change is real and ready for its closeup. TVOD.
Glamourous cookbook author and TV host Padma Lakshmi’s Hulu series Taste the Nation has late-year celebrations in mind, hence a new four-part special series Holiday Edition. It’s not only food, and it’s always treated with respect and love on the series, it’s also a deep dive into identity, immigrants, indigenous culture, and finding one’s place in the bustling melting pot of the USA. Happy Challah Days looks at the rich and long history of Jews in New York’s Lower East Side, the characteristic cuisine rooted in Eastern Europe. The streets burst with historic bakeries, pickle-makers, appetizer stores, yum. Truth and Turkey, set in Massachusetts Bay, the 12 thousand-year-old home of the Mashpee Wampanoag tastes the seafood, corn and berry-based diet as Lakshmi learns about the theft of their lands 400 years ago and the tribe’s struggles to this day. Mojo-ho Christmas finds the vibrant Cuban culture and cuisine in Miami, the new home of Cubans forced to escape the brutal decades-old dictatorship and lack of food and medicine. Cuban cuisine transposed to Florida is based on pork, rum, black beans and most importantly, the freedom to live free and eat well. K-Town Countdown celebrates the food and spirit of the Lunar New Year the ultimate Korean family and food event of the year. Food is important as is honouring the past and ancestors. Kimchi, Mandu dumplings, rice cake soup, and umami-rich sauces are the key foods.
Xena: Warrior Princess’ Lucy Lawless stars in a new season of the Australian detective series My Life is Murder, now on Acorn TV. And remember Renee O’Connor who played her sidekick Gabriel? She guest stars in an episode as Clarissa, a healing guru who is not quite on the up and up. Lawless’ Alex investigates the murder of Clarissa’s husband and business partner Otto; he was found handcuffed to his mistress’ bed, dead from asphyxiation. So Alex and her present sidekick Ash (Ava Diakhaby) sign up for a bit of healing and snooping; they must sign a non-disclosure agreement and do what they’re told. A bit of research reveals the Clarissa and Otto were using classic neuro-linguistic manipulation in a major mind-meld/money grab, but… what about the mistress? And their son, well, he’s another story altogether. But best of all, none other than William Shatner makes a very special guest appearance!
You’ve been hearing raves about the acclaimed fact-based Canadian film Beans for months now, and you can catch it now at TIFF Bell Lightbox dir. Tracey Deer Inspired by true events, Beans is about a Mohawk girl on the cusp of adolescence who must grow up fast and become her own kind of warrior during the armed stand-off known as the 1990 Oka Crisis. Canada, drop everything and see Beans in theatres. This heart-tugging drama about a little girl caught up in a vicious cycle of racism and struggle is all too true. Images from July to September 1990, in Oka, Quebec, a standoff between police and Mohawk protesters defending their burial grounds against golf club encroachment, are seared into Canadian memory. Violent confrontations highlighted the deep racism of local whites, the federal government and businesses towards Canada’s First Nations. The armed confrontation made international headlines and marked a desperate low in our history. Deer looks at Oka through the eyes of 12-year-old Beans (Kiawentiio). Deer’s beautifully, lovingly made and dignified film has won hearts and high praise all year on the film festival and international theatrical circuit.
The prestigious Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival (Reel Asian) kicks off its 25th year on Nov 10, and with it, a wealth of Asian-themed and Asian-made films from the diaspora. and most of the programme will be available digitally across Canada on YouTube and Twitch. The fest opens with Martin Edralin’s award-winning Islands and closes with a major cash contest So You Think You Can Pitch? and entrants will have the chance to bring their films to next year’s Reel Asian fest. And between those events, 81 international films from Canada, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Pakistan, India, Norway and the United States and other countries with 59% directed by women and non-binary filmmakers. Alongside screenings is Absence|Presence a series of panel conversations, screenings and workshops reintroducing Desh Pardesh to Reel Asian’s audiences and community. Desh Pardesh is a multidisciplinary arts and culture festival that engaged with political issues of South Asia and its diasporas through a multi-day festival and conference, taking place in Toronto every year. Films include Frederik Hana and Marius Lunde’s Codename: Nagasaki, Diverted: When Water Becomes Dust, from Ann Kaneko, Jun Li’s Drifting, Chen Yu-hsun’s My Missing Valentine, Debbie Lum’s Try Harder!, Mari Walker’s See You Then, Junta Yamaguchi’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, Three Sisters from Lee Seung-won, Canadian filmmaker Anam Abbas’ This Stained Dawn, Sujata Day’s Definition, Please, Emilie Serri’s Damascus Dreams, Muzzamer Rahman’s Hail, Driver, and many more. A strong Shorts lineup, and the annual Reel Ideas conference considers Here in the Future Past. And Ali Kazimi will be recognised in Reel Asian’s Canadian Artist Spotlight in 2021. The documentary filmmaker, media artist, activist, author, and educator has been a fixture in the Asian Canadian community, with 30 years of “vital contributions to Canadian media”. For more info go to www.reelasian.com