By Anne Brodie
Carly Stone’s tough, loving, and emotionally challenging North of Normal based on author Cea Sunrise Person’s experiences as a child born into an off-grid Yukon commune is a profoundly resonant portrait of the mother-child bond over some twenty years. Little Cea (River Price-Maenpaa) lives a seemingly idyllic life in a tribe led by her adoring, stubborn, anti-government Grandpa Dick (Robert Carlyle) whose number one rule is “never give in”. Cea’s mother Michelle (Sarah Gadon in a brilliantly subversive role) raises her in this closed micro-society, loves her but abandons her for six years. It won’t be the last time as Cea (Amanda Fix) grows up. She and her mother return to Grandpa Dick’s encampment after time away to find it empty, leaving them adrift. Following one’s own will, and never giving in, being oneself, means leaving when things aren’t going one’s way, damn the anguish of those left behind. It is a painful, recurring theme; Cea’s lack of security seems to spur self-reliance. She eyes a trip to Paris for a potential modelling gig, going against the non-commercial family credo. The thing is, nothing can be trusted as we witness again and again. Cea watched Michelle go through endless worthless boyfriends, one a thief and ne’er do well, another sexual abuser and Sam (James Darcy) a narcissist who attempts to dominate them. He’s the last straw for teenaged Cea who sets out on her own. Given beautifully nuanced performances, a vivid memory timeline, and visceral emotion, North of Normal feels genius, deep and real. In theatres.
For the Animals in select theaters and on TVOD follows Tena Lundquist Faust and Tama Lundquist in their dedicated mission to help the growing stray dog crisis in Houston, Texas. The twin philanthropists patrol the streets of the city’s East Side where dogs are regularly dumped, to organise medical aid, shelter, food, and water. Some have been shot, and abandoned, many have broken bones, disease, and trauma, and they live in garbage dumps or the woods, alone and vulnerable. They may have been pets or the product of animals no one could afford to spay and neuter. The twins hold an annual fundraising ball that attracts big, generous crowds which helps. Meanwhile, in the streets, some individuals have taken on their own personal mission to feed and water the animals, making daily rounds and doing what they can. After years of outreach, the sisters sometimes find themselves depleted and sad, but they soldier on, knowing local bureaucracy isn’t about to help. Compassion exists in grassroots movements, in low-cost vets’ offices, but COVID and the economy proved major setbacks. The “catastrophic” stray crisis isn’t used as a hammer over our heads, the approach of documentarians Sadhvi Siddhali Shree and Sadhvi Anubhuti is direct, businesslike, not sensationalised or sentimentalised. It’s a learning experience, with great rewards, and promotes the simple solution that even one person can make a difference. Alyssa Milano executive produces this most worthy film.
Good Omens returns for a second season on Prime Video, for our sins. The sitcom about good angels and bad angels vying for world dominance is sly, wicked and jammed with celeb cameos. Michael Sheen is timid do-gooder angel Aziraphale on God’s side in a bizarre friendship with David Tennant’s Crowley (Aleister?) the showy, evil, madcap, bitter peacock whose elaborate hairdos change with the winds. They are unlikely pals working from opposite sides of the coin but there’s a certain frisson between them. Aziraphale is enchanted by Crowley’s intellectual and moral complexity, he can’t help it. The lads skip through the ages from the Beginning of Time to ancient Greece, to Victorian Edinburgh to the London Blitz of WWII (Crowley caused the War) to the present day and beyond. Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) shows up, in poor shape, as Aziraphale’s raises the stakes in Crowley’s game which he has yet to grasp. Newly added this season is Miranda Richardson as demon Shax, a shapeshifter and muckraker as wicked as the day is long. At least Crowley has some good points, Shax doesn’t, so he utilizes Miracle Blockers. Deeply imaginative, deeply silly, carried along at bullet train pace, the series leaves no stone unturned in constantly grabbing our attention (really? we’re watching). The style is all surface, the bon mot toss-aways, smarty pants stuff and the stagey artificiality of it all may be the point, its an acquired taste.
Interesting story that seems improbable now but when events occurred, in the seventies in Ireland, it was very much of the times. Protest movements attracted idealistic young people, poor and rich, who rejected wealth and family to fight for causes as activists and even violent radicals. The docuseries The Heiress And The Heist on Sundance Now and AMC+ follows debutante Rose Dugdale, raised as an elite, as she launches a wave of terror in Ireland during the “troubles” in the country torn by partisan religion and culture-based fighting, Republicans versus English rule. Dugdale learned etiquette as a child, via her domineering mother, to prepare for coming out to Queen Elizabeth as a debutante, a Royal event discontinued in 1958. Coming out sealed an upper-crust woman’s chances of marrying well – and cost around $120,000 US dollars per daughter. It also ensured getting into Oxford, where Rose was remembered as bright, lively and fun. At the time, the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements were exploding in the US, and the Black Panthers, Weather Underground, and other radical groups used violence to be heard. Rose took inspiration from them and became a passionate supporter of the IRA and a bombs specialist. She masterminded a successful plot to steal $150M in art from her parents’ home, and then a failed bombing campaign, using milk tin bombs she helped build. Rose was imprisoned – her lover kidnapped a wealthy Dutch industrialist as a hostage demanding her release. Archival footage, and interviews with friends and accomplices, flesh out this story of rebellion. What happens next beggars the imagination – what a story!
The Gentle Art Of Swedish Death Cleaning, a reality decluttering series based on Margareta Magnusson’s how-to book of the same name is similar to the many decluttering reality shows out there but with a difference. Sure, all the guests have a lifetime of “memorabilia” cramming their homes, rendering their space inhospitable, unappealing and stressful. But this series chooses extraordinary subjects to help. Swedish hosts Katarina Blom, Ellinor Engström, and Johan Svenson, a blonde bunch, land in the US armed with game plans, and experience to transform loves. First up, a 75-year-old colourful lounge singer who obsesses over “things” to the exclusion of a social or love life. Among her gems – dozens of penis sculptures, replicas, and artworks, a glittering nightclub wardrobe, and acres of photographs. The team donates the costumes to the local drag show bar, she’s toasted in a night of song then hired to work there as a chanteuse. Job done, we feel good and on to the next death cleaner. As Magnusson puts it “The idea is that we should not leave a mountain of crap behind for our loved ones to clean up when we die”. Lifetime.