By Anne Brodie
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever takes us back to the strong and proud country, an idyllic place where science and knowledge are valued as much as ancient traditions. An ideal government is in place, with Ramonda (Angela Bassett) as Queen, following the death of King T’Challa. Brainiac Shuri (Letitia Wright) creates tech to ensure the country remains safe and secure a reflection of the people’s idealism. General Okoye (Danai Gurira) leads the military with fearless loyalty, part of a wonderful array of strong women! Fly in the ointment – American scientists are underwater searching for a precious metal believed only to be found in Wakanda; they will mine it like it’s theirs. Another party of blue-skinned, underwater-breathing human-like soldiers make short work of the American team via hypnosis, sonic booms, and deadly force fields. Wakanda is at war. Shuri and Okoye travel to Cambridge, Mass to find a 19-year-old inventor Riri (Dominique Thorne) whose school project could mean salvation for Wakanda. but covert US authorities have their sights on her. Martin Freeman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are Washington-based intelligence agents investigating the blue-skinned invaders as they plan to hijack the metal for the US and whatever that takes. It’s fast and frantic and maintains a high level of tension for almost three hours. That’s a problem – too much of a muchness without subtlety or relief; putting it into comic book/video $$$ game universe. Director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole laid it on thick, but they did give us a satisfying tribute to the late, great Black Panther and hope for the future.
Rewards aplenty in Season 5 of Netflix‘ criminally fascinating series The Crown. A room full of apes or screenwriters couldn’t come up with this stuff, the endless dramas and melodramas of being Royal – secrets, pains, politics, scandals, failures, successes, being staunch while dying inside, depression, rage, love, love lost – all in public. We don’t know how much of what we’re watching actually happened – meaning behind the scenes – but does it really matter? It’s enough that it makes for superior TV entertainment. And this year of all years, on the death of Her Majesty, we see The Queen (Imelda Staunton) trying to keep the family together and happy while juggling extraordinary occurrences. Then there is the entitled, hot-tempered son, now King Charles III (Dominic West), her unflappable daughter Princess Anne (Claudia Harrison), sister Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville) seen not as the tabs portrayed her, Prince Phillip (Jonathan Pryce) and his affairs and absences, but most especially Princess Diana (a freakishly spot-on Elizabeth Debicki ) the wounded bird of the family, neglected, diminished and swept to the side, suffering from mental health issues, friendless, isolated and suicidal. Debicki’s eerily real performance of the most famous woman in the world at the time, and maybe the loneliest, is physically a carbon copy of Diana. We’re reminded of various headline-making chapters, that hot mic moment and events we saw and heard on TV but no one can know what took place behind closed doors at Buckingham, Balmoral or Kensington Palace, or Windsor Castle. It is conjecture pure and simple, but, hey, who cares. The Crown is absolute catnip with outstanding production values, vivid writing, and top-notch performances. And anyway, since when does blurring the lines of fact and fiction matter in series TV? Settle in, kids.
Emily Blunt exec produces and stars in The English, Prime Video‘s timely neo-western drama by Hugo Blick that examines white land theft from First Nations across America circa 1890. No matter the ethnicity of the settlers, the Indians called them English, synonymous with the violent rape and attempted destruction of indigenous lives and culture, the echoes of which are felt today across North America and other global territories. Blunt is Cornelia Locke, an actual English woman finding her way alone from Oklahoma to Wyoming to find and end the man who murdered her son. She’s seen the violence that stains the lawless land. She’s victimised by the owner (Ciarán Hinds) of an isolated desert hotel who boasts that his suit is from Saville Row; she tells him sarcastically he is “everything I expect in a man”. She’s left unprotected by her wise but gutless stagecoach driver (Toby Jones). Along comes a Pawnee named Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer) an ex-US Cavalry scout and traitor to his people; they travel together for protection and company. The horrific sights they see along the way, the slaughter of innocents, and abuses by the military against First Nations, steel her nerves for what lies ahead. They take in a young girl and a newborn and continue their journey through relentless hardship. This provocative and ultra-violent series may or may not be based on fact, but it certainly is the spirit of what we know about the white rush for land in the opening American west. The wide-open skies provide a beautiful and enormous canvas, the Big Sky so appealing to foreign speculators. Arnau Valls Colomer’s cinematography is staggering; he uses angles that tie the land to the sky, places characters in their proper place, inferior to nature, and reinforces the reasons why people were so keen to rush the territories. It looks deliciously old-fashioned suggesting John Ford and yet feels totally original.
Rosie, an orphaned Cree girl, played with plenty of charm and exuberance by Keris Hope (Kanien’kehá:ka girl from the Six Nations of the Grand River), is orphaned and in need of a home. Montreal Social Services locates Rosie’s aunt, Fred for Frédérique(Mélanie Bray) a sex shop worker three months behind on rent with an antipathy to responsibility. She refuses to take the child but with nowhere else to go, Rosie’s left with her, and with help from her more compassionate friends, drag artists Mo and Flo (Alex Trahan and Constant Bernard) take her in. There are missteps galore, like leaving Rosie with a stranger (Arlen Aguayo Stewart) overnight, sleeping in abandoned cars, and general thoughtlessness, the queens pick up Fred’s slack as she deals with eviction and joblessness. An authentic performance by Bray reveals her split feelings about being a mum to Rosie, and as a defiant, frustrating, and wreckless person who doesn’t realise she has been given a gift. Rosie marks the feature debut of Métis filmmaker/actor Gail Maurice. Select theatres.
The documentary Being Thunder follows seventeen-year-old Sherente Mishitahin Harris, a two-spirit genderqueer teen from Rhode Island’s Narragansett tribe, whose sense of self and intelligence has given her the courage to dress and be who she is. Sherente wears full makeup “even when I don’t want to “to be accepted as a transgender woman so I look like that figure they need me to be”. Her extraordinary insight and vulnerability emerge again and again, and her strength of character shines through as she endures what many of us couldn’t imagine. A recurring theme is that she is ignored in Pow Wow dance competitions. Sherente’s passionate about dance and one of the best in the troupe, but never wins, sidelined by transphobic officials who instructed jurors not to vote for her. Her loving inner circle, a diverse group of people identifying as First Nations, lovebombs her when she needs it in smudging ceremonies and prayer. That’s a powerful force. Her family and allies have seen her through tough times and given her the confidence to withstand and thrive. Sherente’s great triumph ends this portrait, indicating to us, as concerned viewers, that she is going to be fine. Stéphanie Lamorré’s sensitive doc raises multiple issues that must no longer be ignored. On TVOD.
He is superhero Thor to most of us, alpha male extraordinaire but in the comprehensive health documentary series Limitless with Chris Hemsworth launching Nov. 16, on Disney+ he lets us know he’s just like the rest of us, too busy, stressed, fearful, and worried about the future and ageing. He’s suffered from the effects of debilitating stress since he was a boy. He’s one of us. The series finds him testing the limits of his anxieties in the most amazing challenges, failing, trying again, and maybe overcoming. And what he finds on the other side is that it’s possible to reduce killing stress and stop disease in its tracks, develop practices to reduce the flooding of harmful hormones into our body, and accept limitations and ultimately death. We can “maximize our potential”. New Age baloney? No. Science. Various experts in stress reduction, psychology, physical control, fasting, shock, strength, memory, the acceptance and embracing of death, and more via scientifically tracked feats like swimming in Arctic waters, fighting fires, playing underwater hockey, taking a walk into thin air, 900 feet up, a stint in a retirement home in an ageing bodysuit and a psychological death experience. And then there is his four-day fast to reboot his system. Limitless, which Hemsworth executive produced, is an important and radical experience, with simple guidelines given to better our health and extend our lives in health. Just extraordinary. I hope he continues this invaluable series.
Mother and daughter Sissy Spacek and Schuyler Fisk play mother and daughter Tina and Kate opposite Dustin Hoffman as Bill and Jake Hoffman as Sam in Sam & Kate. Got it? Sam’s come home to small-town Georgia to care for his ailing father, a curmudgeon who pays zero attention to his doctor’s plan to keep him well. It’s love at first sight on Main Street when Sam spies Kate in her bookstore. He makes conversation; she’s friendly but not interested. Tina is isolated in her small home, allowing no one in. She’s a hoarder. The four go on outings but each struggles with secrets, refusing to let anyone get close. All four attend the local church, and even though Sam and Bill are Jews, it’s been their church for years. It’s Christmas time, the tree’s up – along with expectations – with all the trimmings. As the four begin to open to one another, those frailties and vulnerabilities emerge and demand attention. The performances are solid and while a bit dour, the film offers gentle respite from the noise of provocative, demanding awards season entries. TVOD.
James Cordon’s ability to be hysterically funny and deeply sombre on a dime as in Prime Video‘s new series Mammals reminds us that he is more than a late-night talk show host – he also sings like a dream – he can tackle a seemingly unlimited array of characters. And yet, James Cordon comes through; it’s a winning and unique formula. He plays Jamie, a chef, moments before the opening of his first London restaurant and the birth of his son with his wife, Amandine (Melia Kreiling). Everything is riding on these next days and weeks when the unthinkable happens. They’ve taken an isolated seaside cottage to gather their thoughts – singer Tom Jones is in the cabin next door – when Amandine is rushed to the hospital. She loses their baby. Jamie has her phone and notices a sexting thread between her and someone named Paul. Back in London, they hold a memorial service for the baby, and Amandine’s mother gives her her grandfather’s irreplaceable violin for their “next son”. She tells Jamie and the guests that she loves him and wants 100 children with him. But he’s processing the sexts. He follows a man he sees being affectionate with her and threatens him. It’s not Paul. Its Dave. And who is Jason? And who broke into their home and stole that priceless violin leaving shards in the baby’s room? Sally Hawkins plays Jamie’s sister, an odd duck obsessed with Coco Chanel, able to twist a deer’s neck when it’s shot and dying and bewitch her confused husband. So there is plenty to chew on and amuse in this six-part black comedy. Written by Jez Butterworth and directed by Stephanie Laing, Mammals takes us on an arduous and bumpy ride that proves mammals have a lot to answer for. One big can of worms, coming right up with a side of misleading truffles.
So shouldn’t Cordon know how to speak with harried restaurant staff? Just askin’.
Not having seen the previous three iterations of Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show extended commercial for the singer’s clothing line I was blasted out of my seat by Vol. 4 . What an eye and earful! Honestly hats off to the creatives behind the music and dance quasi-horror spectacular with its boatload of celebrity guests. Picture a dark forest, impossibly lit by alien invaders, fa off fires or stage lights, all manner of gendered dancers in energetic numbers that thrill and exhaust with an equal vengeance, all shadowy and dangerous and imaginative. It’s Rihanna’s fourth annual “fashion experience” but has more in common with burlesque than clothing; the thumbprint is not of fabric but skin, whether living or undead. “Savage” is the expression on all faces, pumping up the ferocity of the dancers’ movements and slam-bang simulated sex acts. It’s great because it dares to exist, someone’s imagination has been allowed to flower in a compelling and memorable short film. For sure Rihanna’s show is a ‘trailblazer’, per the handout, but it is radical, and extra, making “modern dance” look positively Victorian. Here are the briefly glimpsed guests – Anitta, Burna Boy, Don Toliver, and Maxwell, Ángela Aguilar, Avani Gregg, Bella Poarch, Cara Delevingne, Damson Idris, Irina Shayk, Joan Smalls, Kornbread, Lara Stone, Lilly Singh, Marsai Martin, Precious Lee, Rickey Thompson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Simu Liu, Taraji P. Henson, Taylour Paige, Winston Duke, Zach Miko, among others. And wandering alone through the forest, wearing a sly smile and his own well-worn duds, none other than Johnny Depp. Now on Prime Video. P.S. Rihanna is celebrating the birth of her first child, and her song on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Well, if ever there was a time when good manners could change the world, this is it. With countries being ripped apart in a radical period of expressions of anger and hate, a little civility can go a long way. A new series out of Melbourne Australia, Mind Your Manners, features etiquette teacher Sara Jane Ho doing her bit to make the world a bit more bearable, person by person. She covers everything you need to know about deportment, presentation, good diction, and doing our best to put others at ease, as though we were living in a society (thanks George Costanza) and being our best. From lowering an abrasive voice or image to setting up a worthy dating profile to attract the right people, dressing and grooming to impress and not overwhelm, and even how to take a formal tea, hold a wine glass and eat an unpeeled banana with a knife and fork. Silly, you say? Think again. Ho says “Etiquette is the glue that holds society together”. Its aim isn’t to make us robots but to put ourselves and everyone around us at ease, to know what we’re doing. It’s an enviable skill set by which you can get ahead in business, and socially and create more meaningful human connections. Ho instructs six people from around the world, one per episode, with a great sense of humour, understanding, and mentorship as we too soak up her knowledge. On Netflix Nov 16.
Disney+ Original series The Santa Clauses comes 28 years after Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause opened to huzzahs, followed by two sequels. There is a sequel of sorts now but in series form aimed straight at kids. Scott Calvin aka Santa Claus, his wife, Mrs.Claus (what, no first name?) and their bored teens await Christmas with a variety of emotions. The teens could care less, the Mrs. is concerned that Santa’s getting on. At 65, he has aches and pains and mixes things up. His adorable young helper Noel notices but encourages Santa to keep at it – not that he needs much encouragement. Santa’s magic is spotty – due to diminishing belief and interest in Santa and the whole North Pole workshop thing. Is it time to retire? He and Noel pore over a list of potential Santas. Bright, colourful, noisy, and cheery with plenty of 3D effects to bewitch very young audiences, but with an occasional zinger for the parents, while ageless “pre-teen” Noel hollers “wait just a taffy lickin’ minute”, as he saves Santa from himself. Definitely for the little ones. Former White House staffer IRL, Kal Penn co-stars. Nov. 16