By Anne Brodie
Edgar Berger’s harrowing adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic anti-war war novel All Quiet on the Western Front is a history lesson and morality tale, and difficult to watch. It’s told from the point of view of teenage German boys who just signed up to fight the French in World War I. They’re idealistic, and patriotic and giddy with joy as they head to the Western Front at the Belgian border, hoping to prove themselves and return home heroes. Joy turns to shock in muddy trenches in winter, under constant shelling, charging the French stand and dying grisly deaths by the score. Friends and comrades suffer bullets, missiles, and later, horrifically, crushing under the wheels of armoured tanks. The boys’ trauma deadens their eyes, they act out and cry to go home. Paul ( Felix Kammerer in a sensational performance) is our guide, he’s slight of build and naive like the others and witnesses his friend’s body parts blown into the trees and finds there is no rest from horror. German military leaders shake their heads over champagne and caviar as they learn of the endless stream of bags and boxes of bodies of youngsters and plan the next mission for the survivors, expendable workhorses. Germany is failing and sure to lose the war so how to save face? Two other versions of Remarque’s novel are out there and this one, the most expensive German film in the history of Netflix offers a graphic, truthful, modern take that will shake seen-it-all audiences to the core. A heavy drum score of doom underscores the tragedy of war from the moment the boys joyously sing that they will fight for the Fatherland, through to the devastating, painful end. Essential viewing for mature audiences with the warning STRONG BLOODY WAR VIOLENCE. At TIFF Bell Lightbox now, expanding this weekend and on Netflix on Oct. 28. Germany’s official entry for Best International Film at the 2023 Oscars.
On a cooler note, our beloved Ryan Reynolds and his longtime pal Rob McElhenney are owners of a north Wales soccer team, the 5th-tier Red Dragons. Say what? The pair purchased a declining team in Wrexham, a city hit hard by economic instability. The idea is to give the team and the community a chance to prosper and to have a great time celebrating local talent. The lads bring along cameras to follow their progress et, voila, the docuseries Welcome To Wrexham. Turns out, Wrexham is a survivor, the third oldest football club in the world wi,h a reputation to uphold, and the oldest football stadium in the world (1807). So what do Reynolds and McElhenney know about “football” and running a professional sports team? Nada. The team is owned by the citizens, these Hollywood dreamers survived the vote to take charge, but now challenges are just beginning, Will Reynold’s charm and warmth win the folks over, will they be able to coach the team to rise above its dismal placement? No wonder the boys say they have a case of imposter syndrome. They also have a lot of heart. FX and Disney+.
Charlie Hunnam takes us on an extreme global adventure in Apple TV+ Shantaram, as Lin Ford in a twelve-part series based on Gregory David Roberts’ 2003 semi-autobiographical novel. It follows an escaped Australian bank robber who lands in Bombay, India in the late 80s, becomes a slum doctor, then moves from there to dangerous episodes in Afghanistan, and Russia. But back to India where he undergoes a moral transformation at first his presence in the massive tent slum brings violence and he causes a fire that destroys 30 encampments. His first thought is to run but he sees people in distress and stays to provide medical care. While there he comes to know of a plot by shady politicians to bulldoze the slum and put up luxury condos, displacing millions. Meanwhile, he and Karla, a local fixer develop a bond as they work to save heroin addict Lisa (Elektra Kilbey) from a brothel run by a government official. This is just a tiny tip of the iceberg of Lin’s quandaries – he also must be on the lookout for those who seek to kill him, and run if need be, but he decides to dedicate himself to helping others over his own survival. The series’ exoticism is seductive, especially life in Bombay in the 80s when western seekers flooded the place, seeking enlightenment but expanding the drug trade. Lin is a remarkable character and whether all that’s presented actually happened to Roberts is debatable but it’s a heck of a ride.
Filmmaker brothers Doron and Yoav Paz reveal a personal history from a Holocaust survivor in Plan A, the true story of a cell of Jewish underground resistance members that fought back post-WWII in Berlin. August Diehl, Sylvia Hoeks, Nikolai Kinski, and Michael Aloni star as German Jews who styled themselves as the Jewish Avengers. They plotted to carry out massive revenge on Nazis and enabling German citizens, to kill six million, the same number of Jews killed under the Third Reich. Diehl’s Max mourns the loss of his wife, son, and entire family between 1933 to May 1945 and is stopped in his tracks when someone asks him why Jews didn’t fight back. Max sets out to do his part to honour the dead, joining the secret Jewish Brigade as they kill off surviving Nazis. But there’s a bigger plan. They find work in the city’s drinking water system and decide it is time to poison the supplies in Nuremberg, Munich, Cologne, Weimar, and Hamburg. They recognise that such an act would take away the possibility of a new free Jewish land in Israel. Max pledges to do the deed. We are complicit – we want him to succeed – but does he have the will? The Brigade members search their souls in this intense look back at upheaval and unrest in post-WWII Germany. On TVOD Oct 14.
The restrictive Hollywood Production Code, aka the Hays Code, governing morality in films following a string of 20’s scandals came into effect in 1934. Director Frank Borzage, known for socially conscious films squeaked in Little Man, What Now? that year, just before the wall came down. The opening scene is set in front of a gynecologist’s office where a young married couple, Emma and Hans (Margaret Sullavan and Douglass Montgomery) have an appointment. It’s not stated but we are given to know that Emma is having an abortion. It’s set in Germany – between the wars – where poverty is rampant. The doctor won’t give her the procedure, a desperate state of affairs considering they are among the starving lower class and he’s jobless. Talk of Communism, socialism, the grasping bourgeoise and unemployment is kept behind closed doors. Hans can’t catch a break and becomes politicised, demanding equality. He lands jobs and loses them for speaking out so they’re forced to leave for Berlin to live with his mother, who with her dubious new husband is living in grand style. They soon discover the source of his mother’s new money. Their home is a brothel serving elite members of the German government and industry leaders. It’s a story of suffering and faith, with great attention to artistic details of life in Germany at that time (shot on the Universal lot) and foreshadowing with its portrayal of misery, starvation, and economic failure, the rise of someone like Hitler who said he could fix everything. Brand New 2K Master with audio commentary by Director Allan Arkush and Daniel Kremera, available now on Kino Lorber DVD/Blu-ray.
Ohio, 1975. The Brobergs, a loving Mormon family in Idaho with three young girls befriend a charming church member, Robert “B” Berchtold, and his family. They celebrate newfound friendships, shared views, and meals in the series A Friend of the Family, even as it becomes clear that B is paying special attention to 12-year-old Jan Broberg. He takes her on drives and manipulates her parents into agreeing to their special developing friendship; they’re naive and too polite and trusting to object and Jan enjoys the attention. He takes her horseback riding one day after school, against both parents’ wishes and they don’t come back. B’s wife begs the Brobergs not to call the police for five days, revealing he has a mental disorder, they’ll be back soon, she says. She’s not telling the whole story and they don’t push. Police refer the Brobergs to the FBI and they track them down to Mexico where B is arrested and returned to Idaho, with Jan, now called Dolly and married to him. Two years later he kidnaps her again. B had begun to groom her father with sex, so his mental condition casts a wide evil net. The series based on a real-life story comes with a warning of child sex abuse and grooming scenes. It’s important to get stories like this out as cautionary but here we seem to revel in its sordid misery, so take heed. You’ll need a shower. Debuts Oct 17 on Showcase and STACKTV.
Now for a breath of fresh air. Pioneer Woman Rhee Drummond’s The Big Bad Budget Battle a reality show pitching contestants against one another to make a mountain of deliciousness out of a molehill of resources, has lessons for all cooks. It’s timely stuff considering our Thanksgiving season highlighted skyrocketing food prices. And the limitations per the show formula and the home cooks’ imagination are challenging. With just twenty dollars to spend at Guy Fieri’s Flavortown Market, a barely stocked pantry, and creativity, they must place meals on the judges’ tables in twenty minutes!! OK – so some tips. We’ve done it before – consider the family kitchen during the world wars when domestic science was tested like never before with rationing and no frills. Spoiler alert – the meals look great and the judges say, are delicious. So a few tips – it’s OK to use prepared foods occasionally – a roast chicken can make two or more meals, packaged flavourings like taco seasoning save time and money, and frozen proteins are invaluable. Top of mind is the art of time management, the heart of cooking. How about melting cream cheese into an otherwise unexciting soup? One guy managed to make a hit based on his two provided ingredients – frozen fish sticks and teriyaki sauce. New episodes Wednesdays on Food Network Canada and on TVOD via StackTV
Sarah Richardson embarks on a new design project but this time she’s up the Rockies. Yes, she went to BC, bought a Swiss cheese cuckoo clock house and hired The Nathans, Australian contractors, to make real her vision of dismantling its Swissness and creating a grey and glass ultra-mod B&B. Sarah’s Mountain Escape premiering Oct 19 on HGTV Canada features more of her husband Alexander and teenage daughters as they tear down, dig, mount, puzzle, and all that comes with a project as ambitious as this one. But being in the mountains, there are new codes to adhere to, like making the house earthquake-proof/ resistant – seismic codes – and new less portentous but unique to BC codes. Sarah overcame a Severe Staircase Situation, she got rid of the china chickens, gingerbread effects, and zany kitsch that crammed the place and admired the jaw-dropping view of the mountains and a waterfall. A dream setting for a future rentable, but as we see, it’s a major, time-consuming, and unique reno, with Sarah living in Toronto thousands of kilometres away from the swiss cheese gingerbread target.