By Anne Brodie
If there was ever an inspirational, thrilling and smart film about a family of exceptional achievement, it is King Richard from director Reinaldo Marcus Green. Richard Williams (beautifully played by Will Smith), the patriarch of five daughters including the world’s greatest tennis champions in the history of the sport, Venus and Serena Williams, sets a high-minded life success plan for his daughters before they’re born. He will guide and train Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) to become the best tennis players in the world, a triumph for them and an example for Black women and girls. He would become their ally, not their boss, placing high ideals for their education, including foreign language studies, and inspiring them in, through intellect as much as drive. They would never resent his efforts. He was exceptional, a working man in Compton, resented by a violent local gang, supporting and nurturing his girls to be the best in the fields he laid out for them, medicine, law and tennis. Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) thrived and rose in tennis ranks, as in Richard’s words “two Michael Jordans”. But there was a figure who rarely got credit, Richard’s wife Brandi (Aunjanue Ellis) who claims her place. It’s a powerful look at striving and achievement but primarily, it’s a love story. You know the rest. In Theatres, later, HBO. Listen to What She Said this weekend for Will Smith, Venus Williams and Serena Williams.
Cultural upheaval is the name of the game in FX latest episode of its doc series The New York Times Presents Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson. That moment when Jackson’s bejewelled right breast was exposed for 9/16ths of a second during a sexually charged duet with Justin Timberlake at, of all places, the Super Bowl halftime show. To make it clearer, a white man, exposing a Black woman in front of millions of viewers. To quote an interview subject, “If the culture wars could have a 9/11, it was February 1st, 2004”. Janet fled to LA, her career and reputation in tatters, while Timberlake boasted to TV audiences backstage and his career exploded. The largely conservative NFL was in shock, and producer MTV was on the ropes. Staff were mortified, how had it happened in this precisely spelled out no-fail zone? Someone had seen Jackson’s wardrobe and choreography person having a quiet word with the pair right before the number. The damage was nuclear. David Letterman shamed her in interviews, you can see her squirm. It was all fuel for the US as Tipper Gore pushed censorship for pop music, parents’ groups pressured for conservative values, and nascent right-wing anger welled up. And Janet, the biggest female pop star in the world, took a mighty tumble. It’s fascinating and maddening. She was and is vilified for being sexual, for being Black, female and independent – the impact of that cultural 9/11 is still analyzed today. And the legacy of lawsuits, lost jobs, corporate shuffle and denials. Gripping stuff.
Kamikaze‘s eighteen-year-old Julie (Marie Reuther) a Danish high schooler leads a fun life. Her family is wealthy, she adores her close circle of friends and spends her days with them snapping and postings glamour shots, drinking and partying. It’s a superficial existence, inside a protective bubble; nothing in her life prepares her for what lies ahead. It’s the holiday season and she has the mansion to herself, friends come to party and she flirts with the handsome Polish handyman. Her parents and brother are in Rwanda and flying back for Christmas but she receives the worst text message while out shopping. Her dad texts “We’re crashing. I love you. Do what you want.” Julie collapses for days; mind reeling and revaluates life, wondering what the point is. A worried friend asks her to come rising and she says “Why? The horse might slip on the ice and break its neck”. Cut to – she purposely crashes a small plane in a desert, she is a kamikaze. She’s only injured but wants to die. There are a few bottles of water but no food, just a power source for her phone. She posts what’s happening, her reflections and regrets to still be living. Reuther is 110% committed to Julie – her performance is flawless, transformed from party girl to enlightened architect of her death. Reuther shaved off her voluminous curly blonde hair for the role, playing two different women – the one before and the one after. Just stunning. Kamikaze is based on the novel Muleum by Erlend Loe and directed by Kaspar Munk in four 30-minute episodes. An HBO Max Original on Crave now.
Julianne Moore and Stephen King executive produced Lise’s Story, for Apple TV+ with familiar faces – Joan Allen, Clive Owen, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Dane DeHaan, Sung Kang and Michael Pitt. Some of these actors have been under the radar for a while so it’s good to see them back. This mild horror mini-series is directed by Pablo Larraín whose excellent Diana biopic Spencer is in theatres. So it goes something like this. Lisey’s married to Scott, a world-renowned author; they’re comfortable. Liseyspends much time in a murky square pool on the property. Its waters may have elements with the power to manipulate the mind. Scott is shot in front of Lisey at a public event, the shooter proclaiming he “stole his life”. She kills the man with a silver spade and retreats to their rural home ad her mental health declines. Her sister (Allen) has had a mental break following her husband’s abandonment and she must look after her, with the help of a second sister *(Jason-Leigh). They are all unstable. An underhanded colleague is harassing Lisey for her late husband’s papers which he hopes contain the next bestseller. She refuses and her nightmare begins. A young man (DeHaan) obsessed with Scott’s writing launches a chaotic violent campaign to get the papers. Water’s a big part of the story but special effects don’t work and seem funny. Learn what is a Blood Bool in this florid, Grand Guignol Gothic fairy tale, that misses an essential element of heavy material – relief. A bit of a laugh here and there helps. So it’s a tough ride.
I have so much respect and admiration for Kevin Hart as an actor. In his new Netflix mini-series True Story he proves the depths of his talent, from standup comedy to vales of tears. He is Kid, a touring superstar comic who lands in his hometown of Philadelphia, where things take a dark turn. Wesley Snipes is his scheming, amoral brother Carlton who once again fulfills Kid’s expectations of bad decisions and chaos. Only this time, it’s the worst. Kid’s in the local Four Seasons, away from his family, his latest film is a blockbuster and life should be good. It’s not. He’s glad people can’t see what’s in his mind. Carlton shows up after squandering big bucks Kid gave him to start a restaurant and he needs another handout; he pushes Kid, a recovering alcoholic, to drink and after a night out, Kid wakes up in bed next to a dead woman. Of course, Carlton knows someone who can look after it and that someone (Billy Zane) will, for $6M. The Kid isn’t having it, finally calling his brother to account. Awful events follow leaving Kid traumatised and suicidal. He drags himself out to visit a children’s hospital, putting on a false face for the wee ones. Hart finally has a vehicle for his remarkable take on a tortured man.
Julia is the feel-good documentary we need right now. And it’s coming your way Nov. 26. From Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the story of one of the most beloved TV personalities in history – Julia Child! Child changed the cuisine landscape in North America via a low-budget TV cooking show on the Boston PBS station and a cookbook that took Child and two co-authors twelve years to write. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a deep dive into the science and technique of making delicious food and inspired by her passion for French culture and cuisine remains one of the best sellers in the cooking genre. IF you don’t have it, you should!! Child’s vibrant personality and fearlessness – and a considerable amount of quirk – made her a TV sensation, and celebrity when there were no celebrity foodies. Follow her story from a wealthy Republican background in tony Pasadena to living in a garret in Paris, working in intelligence during WWII, finding the perfect man for her temperament and passions in Paul Child and getting on with the job. She’s a total inspiration to women everywhere, breaking the glass ceiling when most housewives silenced their ambitions and served frozen TV dinners. What a woman! Mark it down, in theatres Nov 26.
Kino Lorber‘s DVD release of the magnificent restoration of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 anti-war film, Broken Lullaby or The Man I Killed, is a dazzling reminder of the emotional complexity, sophistication and cinematic beauty of films from long, long ago. Phillip Holmes plays Paul, a French soldier fighting in the trenches of WWI, indoctrinated, like his company and the German enemy, to murder other young men, like himself in the name of patriotism. He shoots and kills a German soldier and is overcome with grief, and decides to travel to the man’s hometown in Germany and admit his guilt. Paul is horrified when he confesses to a priest, who tells him not to fear, it was his “duty” and he is absolved. “The duty to kill?” he demands, refusing to be forgiven. In Germany, the dead soldier’s family takes him in, believing he was their son’s friend, and accepting him when they learn he is French. Paul’s spiritual journey is vividly emotional. Not only is this a fascinating spiritual study that wouldn’t fly now, but Lubitsch’s story and eye are unparalleled. Breathtaking camera work – the use of new tech – dolly shots, zooms, pans and dissolves are pristine and the sound is magnificent. You can feel the horses’ hooves, bombs, gunfire and cheers. Lionel Barrymore and Zasu Pitts co-star shot the film, magnificently transformed as Europe, on the Paramount lot. A must-see, from an immaculately restored 2K Master, with added special features including commentary by Film Historian Joseph McBride, author of How Did Lubitsch Do It?
I’ve always had a crush on Dean Martin’s voice. There’s nothing smoother, lighter, melodic or nostalgic than his singing and his choice of songs. He’s like a bird in the hand, singing and staying when you expect it not to. TCM has the documentary Dean Martin: King of Cool on Nov. 19, hosted by TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz. Martin was an influential figure in movies, music and celebrity lifestyle, founder of the Rat Pack ( Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and later Shirley MacLaine), a fifty-year singing career, close ties to the Kennedys, TV variety show host and partner in comedy capers with Jerry Lewis. He was everywhere back in the 60s. The doc fills some blanks in what we know about him; for all his fame and easy-going audience connection (“Keep those cards and letters coming in!”), little was known about him. Archival footage, much unseen until now and interviews with Angie Dickinson, Bob Newhart, Carol Burnett, Deana Martin, RZA and Jon Hamm among others, give insight into the man, and the mystery. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way co-produced Deana Martin. The following films will also be broadcast.
8:00 p.m. King of Cool (2021)
9:30 p.m. The Caddy (1953)
11:15 p.m. Rio Bravo (1959)
Friday, Nov 26
8:00 p.m. Ocean’s 11 (1960)
10:15 p.m. Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964)
12:30 a.m. King of Cool (2021) *all times Eastern
Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy, a documentary written, directed and co-produced by Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers opens at Toronto’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Filmmaker and actor Tailfeathers returns to her community in the Kainai First Nation to learn about its substance use and overdose crisis. Community members with substance-use disorder, first responders and medical professionals are profiled as they strive for harm reduction in radical new ways. Kímmapiiyipitssini screens at Hot Docs Saturday, Nov 20 – 2 pm, Sunday, Nov 21 – 7:30 pm, Monday, Nov 22 – 8 pm, Tuesday, Nov 23 – 4 pm, Wednesday, Nov 24 – 4 pm. It is also available for streaming to Hot Docs members. In English and Blackfoot with English subtitles. Kímmapiiyipitssini (Blackfoot) GEE-maa-bee-bit-sin — giving kindness to each other.
Get into winter the Hygge way – that’s a Danish / Norwegian word for “a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment”. Topic has an innovative way to do so with Fireplaces of the World. Available through the holiday season, the series scours the world for interesting fireplaces and Yule logs, that can be enjoyed in your own hygge-style nest. Cozy up to fireplaces from Norway, Argentina, Japan, Tanzania and beyond, accompanied by calming New Age music or simply ambient fire sound for a luxurious time out. This expedition into “hearth culture” via video-wallpaper fires feels good and you won’t be sending emissions into the environment.