The biopic Whitney directed by Kevin Macdonald with full co-operation from her family, friends and associates and offers shocking revelations of her early life, including sexual abuse by a female relative, a long-term lesbian relationship and the extent of her drug addiction but the overwhelming takeaway is sadness. It’s heartbreaking to think a woman with Houston’s boundless talent and bright personality died so young. Houston broke more music industry records than any other female singer, sold 200 million albums and scored seven consecutive U.S. No. 1 singles. An actress, artist, wife, mother, friend and mentor, Houston’s star shone brightly until her battle with drugs overtook her at age 48. Her music brought many of us to tears. I interviewed Houston for The Preacher’s Wife and was struck by how friendly and optimistic and funny she was and off the charts charming. What a pity things ended the way they did.
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Mary Shelley from renowned Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour presents the early 19th century British writer’s artistic journey creating Frankenstein as the ultimate teen dream. It’s beautiful, sexy, driven by passion and pain and unrequited love. It’s a fitting companion to the Twilight films’ teenage lust and dark themes expressed by beautiful characters; both are Gothic romances. Elle Fanning’s Mary is fascinated by death since childhood, inspired by nightmares, loneliness and anxiety and the knowledge that her mother died ten days after she was born. “It was my fault” she says, writing obsessively and giving shape to inner darkness and decadence. She meets the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley played by Douglas Booth; they become lovers and share a home. He’s married and father of two. Mary distracts herself by studying re -animation of the human body via galvanism, the use of electrical charge, which was trending in 1813. Her visions of creating monsters were poured into Frankenstein which became an international hit and massive step forward for women in literature. Like the reawakened being, the writer is born. Mansour’s unsteady pace is a problem, its bottom heavy and often unconvincing, but it certainly breathes with Gothic inspiration.
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Boots Riley’s anti-corporate, anti-white, pro-union screed Sorry to Bother You has its moments and its conviction is admirable but the storytelling leaves a lot to be desired. Lakeith Stanfield from Get Out plays a down on his luck contemplative guy who lives in his uncle’s garage, four months’ rent due. He takes a job as a telemarketer, a dismal prospect because he’s just not good at that kind of thing, and cringes delivering that sorriest of phrases “sorry to bother you” dozens of times a day. Danny Glover’s character, a fellow telemarketer urges him to use his “white voice” and its magic – people listen and buy and he becomes top earner. He’s promoted to the elite telemarketers’ floor and mentored by Armie Hammer’s god-like boss. When he’s seemingly under control, the boss makes him an interesting offer, $100 M to do something morally and ethically reprehensible. Endless warring subplots, whiplash genre switches and plenty of crazy make it a tough sell, but you can’t underestimate the filmmakers’ commitment. He’s thrown everything at the screen. All it needs is someone to clean it up. Co-stars Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Terry Crews, Patton Oswalt and providing the white voice, David Cross.
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Tim Wardle’s documentary Three Identical Strangers which follows American triplets separated at birth and reunited in a series of coincidences rides an incredible arc. Following the joy of finding one another in 1980 at age nineteen, to life under intense media scrutiny to tragedy to revelations of wrongs done to them, this incredible true story jumps from joy headlong into horror. Bobby Sharan, Eddy Galland and David Kellman learned that they had been farmed out to separate homes as toddlers by the prestigious Jewish adoption agency Louise Wise Services in New York. The agency was running a secret programme of separating twins and triplets to different families in order to run lifelong psychological tests on the effects of early separation. The men were devastated by the news but felt it explained a lot. The filmmakers decided to follow the trail and discovered why high ranking New York lawyers and psychiatrists who knew about the practice kept their mouths shut. Absolutely chilling.
READ: Director Tim Wardle talks ‘Three Identical Strangers’
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Speaking of multiples, we have The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger, a wry and frankly delightful fable about identity, fate and the jokes life plays on us, set in the Don Valley ravine, East Gwillimbury and downtown Toronto. Matt Baram plays Carl who learns on his birthday that there is a man with the same name who is missing and presumed dead. An investigator shows up and refuses to believe he’s a different Carl Naardlinger. So our Carl sets out to find him. Other Carl’s brother sees himself on a poster and calls Carl; he is other Carl’s twin Don. Don calls his mother and she admits he and Carl were adopted as twins. Meanwhile Don just “knows” Carl is still alive and out there somewhere. This is the French farce of a missing persons comedy with wild twists and turns, cute side stories, missed connections, what’s lost and found, and lost again. The script is fresh and clever; it’s great fun and highly recommended.
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Documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki examines Elvis Presley’s meaning and legacy in The King featuring interviews with, among others Alec Baldwin, Ethan Hawke, Ashton Kutcher, Mike Myers, James Carville. Jarecki drives folks around Elvis’ south in his 1963 gold, custom Rolls Royce offering insights into the King of Rock and using him as a starting point to the state of America today, “bloated, addicted, self-destructive and going through the motions, coasting on its legend, much like Elvis did.” Jarecki’s concepts are shaky, even nutty. What aims to be a fascinating conglomeration of archival Elvis’ footage, political and cultural exchange and the changing nature of America and Donald Trump is impenetrable. It whips through fifty years of the American Dream and asks if it ever existed. Jarecki hypothesizes that Elvis was born into the American nightmare and became an Empire and that was the beginning of the end of democracy. Then he says Elvis is Captain Ahab. What, now? Convoluted for sure but interview clips from Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Mike Myers offer radical insights worth hearing. Contrapuntal music by Emi Sunshine, Robert Bradley and John Hiatt Plus is awesome and the story about Elvis stopping his driver in the desert to study a cloud that looked like Josef Stalin is priceless.
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Being Erica is having a sexy four way weekend! Erin Karpluk joins Mia Kirshner, Erin Agostino, Michael Xavier, Randal Edwards, and Jonas Chernick in the award-winning Swingers Weekend from Jon Cohen, as host of a couple’s swap retreat. The stage is set at her cottage where they’ll hook up but trouble brews right off the bat. Hubbie’s ogling the other woman and Erin, I mean Lisa, must overcome her inner Puritan. The four settle in for wine and talk when an third couple unexpectedly shows up and she’s not into it. Lisa sets up the rules and they pick names out of a jar. Jealousy, ownership and narcissism, rage and tears show up, followed quickly by erotic confusion, regret and the blues. While it’s a slight story that’s merely skin deep, it’s also kinda cute. And you’ll love the cottage.
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Three’s award winning series Murdered By… is now available on BritBox. The series of standalone investigations of real life tragedies, part documentary, part recreations, is buoyed by extensive research, court and media documents and interviews with survivors. It also explores new cinematic territory to further the storytelling.
Murdered For Being Different is the disturbing story of 20 year old Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby who were kicked and beaten for dressing like Goths in Bacup, Lancashire in 2017. Lancaster died from her injuries and Maltby went into a long coma. The story is told by Maltby, both sets of parents, law enforcement, medical staff and the attackers. One decided to own up and admit his crime, which resulted in the imprisonment of the others.
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Murdered By My Boyfriend A teenage girl falls for the wrong man who reveals himself when problems arise in the relationship. He hits her, she believes it’s her fault and forgives him. He further dominates her and cuts her off from the rest of the world, and ultimately takes her life.
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Murdered By My Father Salma lands in trouble when she starts dating Imi and her father demands she stop seeing him. Shahzad wants the best for his daughter but he’s a single father trying to make it all work according to tradition. Her struggle for everyone’s love ends when her father kills her in the name of “honour.”
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Killed By My Debt tells what happened to 19 year old Jerome Rogers in 2015. Rogers was well liked in his council flat and finally got a job as a courier and bought a motorbike. Two minor traffic citations landed him in the courts and one legal decision ramped up his fine from a few Euros to more than a thousand. He loses everything he’d dreamed of. He then took his own life.
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