By Anne Brodie
Sarah Polley’s achingly poignant Women Talking is based on the book by ex-Mennonite Miriam Toews concerns the women of an ultra-conservative religious colony in rebellion against generational sexual and domestic abuses by their men. Polley’s star-studded cast of Rooney Mara, Buckley, Claire Foy, Frances McDormand, Ben Whishaw, Judith Ivey, Sheila Mccarthy, Michelle Mcleod, Liv Mcneil, and Kate Hallett have gathered in the hayloft to discuss a potentially life-changing decision they must make. After years of beatings, rapes, and oppression by dominant, supposedly Godly men, it’s time to take charge and save themselves. Their choices are to do nothing, stay and fight or leave. It’s set in 2010 but establishes that ill-treatment of women and girls dates back to – always. Yet “the story ends before you were born”. They’re told they were not raped or beaten by their husbands, neighbours, sons, or brothers, it was Satan. The blood in their beds and on their bodies is merely attention-seeking. Something has broken through and the women know its time. The men are in prison, freeing them to address it and thus begin conversations like all the conversations that have been had by abused women, condensed, considered, and clear. They have choices but must act fast in case the men are bailed out. They can’t read or write, so August, an educated member who was ex-communicated and returned will take minutes of their discussions. Greta has false teeth, did she lose them in a beating? and Janz has facial scars – was she slashed? Nothing will change, it’s clear. Some refuse to forgive, going against their teachings; “forgiveness is permission”. Agata vows “we will not do nothing”. The conversations show the women’s keen intelligence (never encouraged), desperation to escape, and understanding of any decision’s permutations. So they decide to leave. What happens in the conversations and the moments outside, the memories of the savagery of men and boys is constantly in the air, but nothing can stop their movement out of lives of pain. It’s a stunning script, Polley’s direction is perfect, down to her choice of a grey palette indicating faded brokenness and the need to be fixed is essential. Taking on a film with a huge cast like this, capturing the personal and community moments in balance, in the time of #MeToo had to be an extraordinary job of work. You’ll be stunned into contemplative, deeply sad silence and work through it for days to come. TIFF Bell Lightbox Dec 23. and wide later.
Brendan Fraser’s (from Canada) naked and sublime performance in The Whale may seem risky to some actors, especially in light of his global stardom some years ago. He is Charlie a morbidly obese English lecturer who allows no one but his friend and nurse to see him. He teaches writing online but doesn’t show himself, and delivers moving, elegant critiques, encouraging his students to be honest and write what they mean. A fast food person leaves meals outside and he reaches for them unseen. He is immobile without great effort and ironically lives up a staircase in a rundown motel. It’s clear he hasn’t been out for a very long time and he is in an impossible situation, and he knows he’s dying. As he prepares or rushes towards death, two callers come by, one a young missionary (Ty Simpkins) determined to help him and later his daughter (Sadie Sink) whom he hasn’t seen since he abandoned her and his wife for a man eight years prior. One love bombs him, and the other hate bombs. It is deeply painful to see what he has become when under that massive fatsuit, Charlie’s humanity shines forth. He’s interested in and intrigued by his seething daughter and endures her hateful taunts without flinching. Still, she keeps visiting. Samantha Morton is vividly real as his ex-wife warns him that their daughter is evil. So here we have a man facing imminent death and three incredibly fraught complications – daughter, wife, missionary, and nurse. But he still finds small joys and reason to laugh, which end in choking fits, and looks forward t his release. Charlie’s an example of apparent weakness and carelessness who is wide awake and strong. Haunting, demanding and oh-so-human. Theatres Dec 21.
Pelosi in the House on HBO follows the hardest-working woman in politics. The heroic and brilliantly effective long-time US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra has followed her with a vérité camera for three decades. And it so happens she was with Pelosi and her own son in the Capitol building on Jan 6, 2021. So for the first time, we get full access to what was going on in the safe rooms below and away from the White House as Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, security, and aides attempted to digest the violent melee outside. Two thousand so-called patriots, at the passionate urging of deposed Trump, stormed the building as election ballots were to be finally counted and Biden declared the new president. Five died, as a result, the Capitol was sullied and degraded as the mob called for the murders of Mike Pence and Pelosi. She promised that they would pay the price and they are paying, via hundreds of guilty verdicts and prison sentences. That may have been the most terrifying event in Pelosi’s colourful career but she keeps her cool, working to make it stop. That’s her deal – she stays cool, weighs problems, articulates them, and acts on them heroically. We watch Pelosi handle prior crises in her long and legendary career, and begin to understand the misogyny of Republicans who are offended that a woman holds such power. Trump seems quite rattled by her in one funny exchange, the shake, the non-shake and the rip-up. She’s a tough nut, saying “Being a speaker makes you a target of hate, mockery and violence” but it’s just part of the job. All hail Pelosi!
The Recruit stars Noah Centineo stars as Owen a young lawyer we meet on the first day of his employment at the CIA in Langley, Va. He’s subjected to cruel newbie business by colleagues, apparently, it’s a savage work environment that seems not to be about national security but about jockeying for position. He’s tossed some boxes labelled Crazies containing threatening letters that must be examined for credibility. No one’s bothered to do so and he soon discovers a greymail note from a foreign actor and former asset Max Meladze (Laura Haddock), written from a top security prison. He immediately jets to a Black Ops site in Yemen where he’s tortured by American agents- apparently a suggestion from those fun deskmates back home for more details, and then to see Meldaze in a top security Phoenix prison. She demands freedom in exchange for withholding damaging information about the CIA. He finds her chillingly lethal but determined then locates a storage locker where MM says there’s a bag. Thugs appear and open it, releasing an acid gas bomb. The kid’s quick and learning what’s what not just in the world of the Crazies but in the offices of the espionage community. MM says his own agency planted the bomb. This has the makings of a riveting binger. Also stars Linus Roache, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Katharine King So, and Alexandra Petrachuk. Netflix.
Emily In Paris S3 launches on Netflix Dec 21 and fans can expect more of the same winning formula. The formula is a tonne of eye candy – clothing, pretty faces, food, drink, hell, even the walls are painted in gorgeous top-tier paints in flattering, mysterious colours. Darren Star’s formula pays off. everyday events – jobs, romance, friendships, and quotidian concerns are painted light and bright, with amusing dialogue. Lots happens in each half-hour as it bounces along from one puddle in the most stylish princess pink tap shoes to another, whiffing here and there, nothing too deep. Nothing a whimsical smile and a sweet, tart comment can’t fix. And it’s set in the elite glamourous PR circles of a breathless, sun-drenched Paris. Viewers will want for nothing except depth which is just fine. It’s not meant to be deep. Emily in Paris continues to be utterly bingeable, light, and nonfattening, and it won’t give you nightmares. Emily (Lilly Collins) has a few, but she’s dressed very well in them. They stem from carrying on her duplicitous working relations with arch-rivals Sylvie and Madeline who duke it out in amusing ways as her relationship with Alfie grows. You will learn that McDonalds in Paris has a different menu than we mere mortals elsewhere.
Consider a wild Bengal Tiger living in a protected 40 square kilometre environment in India forced by incompetent government officials with zero proof that he was a maneater living in a half a hectare. Tiger 24, so named by forest protectors, had lived there for years with a mate and two young cubs when we first see him. He was removed to a zoo, away from Nula, who looked for him for weeks and his abandoned cubs. They’re on tape crying desolately and have since disappeared. T-24’s banishment has become a source of pain and division in India. It couldn’t be proven that he was responsible for the deaths, there are other predators in the territory, and all the humans killed entered his walled reserve illegally and would have been seen as a danger to any animal. Also, T-24 was known to steal other animals’ kills and leave his identifiable claw marks. A tiger expert says to spare T24 the pain of living in a tiny enclosure, they should have killed him. Villagers who regularly entered his territory called for his death while activists demanded an explanation and his return. Filmmaker Warren Pereira was making a doc on T-24 in 2014 when events changed the course of his work and provides insights into why tigers are so precious. The trophy hunting era attracted the British Royal family who with other hunters looking for cheap thrills, helped reduce the population from 40K to 3K. Tiger hunting was declared illegal in 1972 and in 1973 Indira Gandhi extended protection and a government watchdog to preserve and increase their numbers. It’s a painful story, and there are brief moments of hunt aftermath but it’s a tribute to T-24 and a warning against inept treatment by those charged with tiger and environmental protection. He remains in custody with health problems after India’s top court allowed it. Digitial.
Jacquelyn Mills’s radically unusual documentary on life on Sable Island takes us away in many ways. It’s the 43.15 km long, 1.21 km mile-wide sandbar off the shore of, and part of Nova Scotia. . The doc’s title Geographies Of Solitude deftly describes the vibe of being there – via film. Permission is required to visit the place where apparently only five individuals live on a permanent basis. There’s a weather station and airport, and scores of wild horses once brought to graze free from predators and left there. Mills and resident naturalist and environmentalist Zoe Lucas show us the rich life that imbues the place, from the microscopic to the vast. Lucas records, IDs, and checks each pile of manure she finds and what is in it, insects, spiders, spores, bits of plastic, and the greenery that springs up from the corpses of dead horses. Alarmingly, Lucas has been witness to the preponderation of plastics that fill the ocean and wash ashore, bags and bags of the stuff, balloons that have travelled thousands of miles and landed on the otherwise pristine island. Sable Island is also the world’s biggest grey seal breeding ground. It has a long human history dating back at least to the 1500s and has been the subject of ship logs, poems, songs, books, and films. The cinematography captures the weight of nature – the night sky stars are thick and bright, and the winds howl through the grasses and weeds. Sadly its freshwater ponds, crucial for life, are disappearing and who knows what havoc climate change will cause. Mills uses a “contact mic” which enables us to hear the constant buzz of life – in wood, as insects crawl up a plant – fascinating. Consider us lucky to be able to explore this place for 90 minutes. In theatres.
Reacher, the series, is based on the veteran military police investigator played in five Jack Reacher films by Tom Cruise. Alan Ritchson takes on Cruise’s mantel in this eight-episode outing in which Reacher walks through Georgia on a mission, with no visible means of support. He arrives in dusty Margrave and is immediately challenged by thugs. He dispatches them in moments. This apparent martial artist/hulk with fighting skills and snappy comebacks raises eyebrows and is arrested on suspicion of committing murder just outside of town; witnesses say it was him. Truth is, he has just entered civilian life after several tours in the Middle East is walking across the US, dropping by Margrave where his favourite blues musician died. He’s jailed, manhandled, and humiliated until he steps up, mightily. His only allies are the Black police chief, an outlier in this part of the world, and a female officer who is willing to listen. Bit by bit Reacher uncovers a conspiracy extending through law enforcement, business, and local politics and decides to take it all on, “250 pounds of frontier justice”. It’s unique macho fun featuring a kid who just might make it in Hollywood and frankly does better than Cruise. Canada’s Kristen Kreuk co-stars. Season One is based on Lee Child’s first Jack Reacher novel Killing Floor. Season One of Reacher is now on DVD with 30 minutes of special features.
The Yellowstone prequel 1923 premieres on Paramount+ Sunday, starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren as Montana ranchers Jacob and Cara Dutton. A longstanding drought has burned the grass and a plague of locusts is on the land. Solutions must be found for his herd and his neighbours’. Jacob’s also the local law enforcement and has just censured his neighbour for feeding his herd illegally on Jacob’s. There’s bad blood between them and that bad blood permeates the entire series in all its storylines. Cut to South Africa where a heavily armed white hunter bags lions, tigers and whatever strikes his fancy; but he seems to have other more dubious goals. He requests people for his hunts from local organisers, saying wild beasts prefer humans as bait as compared to sheep and goats. Back on the American plains, a young Native American girl is savagely beaten by a nun in a residential school; she retaliates, injuring the sadistic sister. Further violence at the hands of the priest who “disciplines” both of them. He may be a sociopath. Cara informs us off the top that violence has always followed her family and how true. Taylor Sheridan’s series is not comfortable viewing; it’s a series of violent jolts with no breathing room. It lives and breathes violence in the lawless west and where white men have gone for violent pleasures like hunting.
Feeling hungry after all this? BritBox has you covered. The streamer presents its Cooking Collection for the holidays featuring all could hope for from world-renowned chefs. How about Genius Gordon Ramsay: Cookalong Live, Gordon Ramsay’s Home Cookery Course Gordon’s Ultimate Home Cooking Hell’s Kitchen (UK)?
Marco Pierre White’s The Chopping Block and Marco’s Kitchen Burnout
Rachel Allen’s Dinner Parties and Everyday Kitchen
Plus Ramsay’s Boiling Point and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Celebrity guests include James Corden, Alan Carr, Max Beelsey, James Caan, and Mica Paris. Then there is the “best of” collection of Come Dine With Me, a British cultural touchstone that features dinner party guests cooking for each other at their respective homes and then judging each other’s food and hosting skills on the taxi ride home.