Everyone wondered if there was life for Bryan Cranston after he broke bad as Walter White? It’s a movie irony that in this magnificent performance Cranston plays an undercover US customs official who has to act like a drug money launderer—more or less turning himself on his head. If you’ve been watching Narcos on Netflix then you already know about the rivers of coke that flowed from Pablo Escobar’s Columbian jungles to the streets of Miami. It’s 1986 and an official named Robert Mazur went as deep as one can under the covers of drug dealing to discover the source of so much coke mayhem. It’s a brilliant tour de force that only someone of Cranston’s abilities could pull off. The thrill here is in watching him walk the finest line between his two identities, one legit, the other morally corrupt.
You may know that this South Asian winner was runner-up for the people’s Choice Award at TIFF last year. It didn’t have the hype of Hollywood; it had the word-of-mouth of real movie lovers. The drama revolves around six Indian girlfriends who reunite on the island of Goa for a pre-nuptial bash. The all-female cast quite deliberately challenges the traditional romantic trappings of Bollywood, as each woman gradually reveals her life is a lot more challenging than pouring chai. To a person, and for different reasons, fulfillment is almost impossible. The title gives a clear sign of that. The problems they face may seem familiar but the naturalistic performances breathe fresh life into their stories. There’s excellent chemistry on screen. These goddesses are as real as any of us.
It’s practically an obligation of MUN Cinema to ensure Woody Allen’s latest production gets screen time. Returning to one of his favourite decades, Allen here focuses on 1930s Los Angeles. Hollywood was bursting with talent and psychodramas, as the Star System generated more scandal and exaggeration than all the wardrobe racks at MGM. Eisenberg stands in for Allen himself, a smart Bronx boy with ambition and terrific suits who seeks his fortune in sunny California. Under the wing of his uncle Phil, a Hollywood agent, young Bobby is dazzled by the champagne glamour of it all, falling in love with his uncle’s assistant played with aplomb by Kristen Stewart. The problem is that Uncle Phil’s heart wants it wants, and it also wants his assistant. As always with Allen, the cast is large and luminous. It is tempting to see in this gorgeously shot feature Allen’s own musings on the moral ambiguity of desire, and the difference between dreams and reality—subjects he ostensibly knows a lot about.
This film is loosely based on a Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 Wild Duck, and so don’t expect a laugh riot. Do expect a superb adaptation that translates Ibsen’s themes about guilt and the way the past subverts the present into a modern-day context. In a small Australian town, hard times compel the haughty rich owner of a lumber mill to announce he is shutting down the business. People are devastated and many move away. Henry is also getting married to a much younger woman, a member of his own household staff, an event that brings an estranged American son, Christian, to help celebrate. But this is Ibsen territory and celebration always comes with a price. Long-buried secrets are revealed; friendships strained; families pulled asunder. Yes, there’s a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in.
Has Jeremy Irons ever done anything by half measures? We’d pay to hear him recite Dr. Seuss. Here he is utterly brilliant as the famous Cambridge math lecturer G.H. Hardy. His role was to tutor the utterly brilliant wiz, Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan. Lacking a lot of interpersonal skill, Hardy nevertheless came to appreciate the enormous talent he was destined to nurture. The film focuses on the evolution of their relationship, with a requisite number of blocking figures, including fusty old Cambridge itself, running interference over one thing or another as WWI loomed on the horizon. The film appeals to math nerds and to math resistors alike. You don’t need a beautiful mind to appreciate it. The equation of history and art works out just perfectly.
Note: this film screens on Thursday this week only, making its local debut in partnership with the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival. If you have read the terrific novel by Chad Pelley you will know the source of this debut feature by the solidly accomplished Justin Simms. Co-produced by Barbara Doran (with Brad Gover and Michael Dobbin), Away From Everywhere was adapted quite honourably to the screen by both Pelley and Mark Hoffe, and so not a lot gets lost in translation. Jason Priestley and Shawn Doyle play the (exceptionally handsome) brothers at the core of this drama. Owen is a writer who emerges from rehab to spend time with his estranged brother Alex. At the centre of almost every tragedy is a woman, that femme who puts the fatal in fatale. Joanne Kelley does that turn as the spirited Hannah, married to one bro and haunted by a past with another. Directed most competently by Justin Simms, the film draws us easily into its gripping drama, where the action lies in character and not necessarily the other way around. With such an amazingly strong cast and crew, Away From Everywhere is a richly satisfying experience.
A Sundance hit, this dramatic feature well captures the reality of the end of WWII, when the French Red Cross went to Poland to help wounded soldiers who had been released from German camps. A lot of bad stuff happened at war’s end, and so it is that a Polish nun approaches one of the French doctors, desperate to help her observant sisters who had been raped by Russian ‘liberators.’ The doctor, Mathilde Beaulieu, is drawn towards the convent, despite warnings about not doing her proper duties and the sheer scandal of newborn babies in such a place. Her relationship with Mother Superior is one of the dramatic points of interest, as is her growing awareness of how radically the world of faith was rocked by the war. Gorgeous in both the show and telling, The Innocents is based on a true story, one, shockingly, we really haven’t heard before.
Describing the set-up hardly captures the exquisite lushness of this remarkable feature: four sisters, ranging in age from 29 to 13, live together in a large, slightly rickety family house in the coastal town of Kamakura. Abandoned by their father and estranged from their mother, they are raised by a loving grandmother who, alas, must, like all things, pass away. At first there are only three sisters. The fourth of the title joins them after their father dies. This film, in its gorgeous precision and delicate focus, is largely about tradition and family, Japanese style—that is, it is aesthetically stunning, profoundly naturalistic, and universally true.
OMG, we can’t get enough of Frank Zappa, never will. From the ‘sixties through to his premature death in 1993, Zappa lived the truly iconoclastic avant-garde dream. Many might know him as the lead (drummer) of the Mothers of Invention; many remember him as much for his intellectual bravado. In a way it is surprising it has taken this long for a film about him, but his closely guarded personal life would challenge anyone looking in from the outside. The film strings together Zappa’s best interviews in chronological order, adding up to the sense of a man who believed deeply and consistently in freedom of expression, and who died at the awkward birth of political correctness, a phenomenon against which he surely would have railed. If you like this film then pick up a copy his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, always in print for obvious reasons. Wish they still made ‘em like this.
With a name like that she had to be an American sex icon, and so she was. Mistress to both Elvis and JFK (oh, grow up), Tempest Storm was a movie star throughout the ‘fifties, one of the greatest living (88 at the time of this blurb) exotic dancers ever. Her life was at once glamorous and harsh. After marrying an African-American, she experienced the full-blown hatred of Trumpish racism, but she lives to tell the tale of all that, of her famous lovers, and the sheer will to survive in a wickedly divided country. A hit at Hot Docs this year, Tempest Storm speaks not only to the tenacity of its subject but to its powerful female documentarian, Mukerji, who stubbornly persisted to get this unique baby made.
Canadian lit readers take heart: one of your favourite Carol Shields’ novels gets life on screen in this thoroughly accomplished adaptation. We’ll applaud anything Catherine Keener shows up in, and so we are lucky to have her shine here as the accomplished writer-mom whose daughter inexplicably drops out of everything to join the unwashed ranks of Toronto’s panhandling culture. The daughter’s refusal to speak generates much confusion and despair, as everyone projects their own explanation on her for such a sudden mystery. Premiering at this year’s TIFF, Unless comes to us as fresh and Canadian as Honest Ed’s.
The always credible Viggo Mortensen here plays the role of a highly unconventional parent, a true-believing dad to six kids somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. He home-schools them with Marxist theory, Russian novels, and the back-to-the woods philosophy of a 1968 hippie. But how you gonna keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen New Mexico? The answer to that question informs this quirky, highly entertaining feature about the qualified benefits of life off the grid.
When a film is called a “stirring fetish romp” you know it’s got your name on it. Highly acclaimed, hugely popular on the independent circuit, this extravagant indulgence is based on Sarah Waters’ 2002 bestselling novel (Fingersmith) about two double-crossing women, each searching for power and superiority—to put it mildly. The plot is convoluted and dense. No matter, you’ll be seduced by the sheer abundance of corsets, cigarettes, kimonos, curtains, fleshly parts and, always, silk on top of more silk. The narrative is divided, as is the novel, into three sections. Point of view is everything. If you are at all uncomfortable with lush and pleasurable cinematic expressions of desire then stay home and watch the Family Channel. The Handmaiden is strictly rated R.