Our picks for the best new movies and TV shows coming out this week. Plus Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms for the weekend of August 13.
Aretha Franklin’s story is told dutifully but without much soul in Respect. The shapeless biopic – authorized by the late Queen of Soul’s family – is a two-and-a-half-hour grind that checks off the traumas and high notes over two decades in Franklin’s life, beginning when she was a child prodigy singing for her controlling father’s Detroit church and ending when she records her Amazing Grace album. The movie occasionally comes to life when star Jennifer Hudson – handpicked to play Aretha by Aretha – gets to belt out classic tunes like (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman. But otherwise her performance settles for pale imitation. 145 min. Now playing in theatres. NN (Radheyan Simonpillai)
Brand New Cherry Flavor
(Nick Antosca, Lenore Zion)
This eight-part Netflix adaptation of the 1996 novel by Todd Grimson will be embraced by admirers of eccentric, weird takes on Los Angeles culture like Under The Silver Lake and, yes, David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. – though I don’t think even Lynch would think to go to some of the places Channel Zero’s Antosca and Zion take the story of a young filmmaker (Rosa Salazar) who turns to a witch (Catherine Keener) to put a curse on the producer (Eric Lange) who swindled her out of her first directing gig. But their bizarro commitment is what makes Brand New Cherry Flavor so compulsively watchable, piling wild twists and unpredictable complications into each episode just to see how much worse everything can get. (And it can always get worse.) Salazar and Keener’s performances are a delight, especially once Keener’s character reveals the reason for her perpetually nonplussed attitude and Salazar shifts her own intensity into a different, more overtly comic key. Lange’s sneering scenester is equally well-calibrated, in that you cannot wait for his comeuppance to arrive – but as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. It might be really gross. Read a full review here. All eight episodes now available to stream on Netflix Canada. NNNN (Norman Wilner)
Locke & Key’s Emilia Jones plays the CODA – as in “child of deaf adults” – in this crowd-pleaser that sent audiences grabbing for Kleenex at Sundance while AppleTV+ reached deep into their pockets for a historic $25 million acquisition deal. Jones’ Ruby translates for her hard of hearing fishing family while juggling high school and an awkward social life. They have a nuanced family dynamic that is heartwarming, saccharine and tweaked for maximum movie sentiment. CODA is about Ruby pursuing a dream to sing, which is a very calculated plot device to further the gulf between her and her immediate family members who can’t hear her. The obvious ploy to turn an audience to mush pays off, especially in the hands of actors like Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin, the Children Of A Lesser God star who became the first deaf actress to win an Oscar more than 30 years ago. 102 min. Now available to stream on AppleTV+. NNN (RS)
As a comic performer, Ryan Reynolds is in his sweet spot when he’s doing his cheerful-sarcastic thing – delivering withering insults with a big, phony grin. He’s so good at it that it’s weird to see him wear the grin on its own, as he does for most of the miscalculated Free Guy. A big, empty effects comedy about a video-game character (Reynolds) in a mayhem game who falls for a player (Jodie Comer) and sets out to defy his destiny as a perpetual hostage, the movie plays like a mashup of every thriller where a nondescript hero realizes there’s more to the world than he knows – but instead of the complexities of They Live, The Truman Show, The Matrix and half a dozen other classic genre works, Levy and screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn are content to go for a mushy be-yourself narrative for Reynolds, cutting away from Guy’s story to spin a B-plot about Comer’s character trying to prove her AI engine was stolen by Taika Waititi’s swaggering tech bro. It’s far too long and not nearly as funny as it could be, despite the wealth of talent involved. Read a full review here. 112 min. Now playing in theatres. NN (NW)
In the middle of literally nowhere, a man named Will (Winston Duke) lives in a house, monitoring the lives of people on Earth and – when a position becomes available – interviews new souls, trying to choose the best candidate to send into the world. (Those who don’t make the cut will simply cease to be, and he tries to make their end as peaceful as possible.) Spiritual, philosophical and entirely absorbing, writer/director Oda’s first feature is a loving homage to Hirokazu Kore-da’s After Life that can stand proudly alongside that 1998 masterwork; it has the same curiosity about humanity, but an entirely different perspective. (Dan Hermansen’s resolutely analog production design connects the projects like a thread strung between two tin cans.) Zazie Beetz, Tony Hale and Bill Skarsgård are among the candidates, and Benedict Wong is quietly wonderful as Will’s slightly acerbic supervisor. But it’s Duke who carries the picture, the co-star of Black Panther and Us coming into his own as a leading man, withholding so much from his co-stars and from us. Until it all comes pouring out, of course. 124 min. Now playing in theatres. NNNNN (NW)
Marvel’s What If…?
For decades, Marvel Comics has imagined alternate destinies for its beloved characters in the non-canonical What If series. Now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets the same treatment in an animated series that scrambles the storylines of dozens of characters – almost all of whom are voiced by the actors who played them in live-action. (Notable exceptions: Lake Bell voices the Black Widow instead of Scarlett Johansson, with heavy hitters Iron Man, Captain America and Captain Marvel also subbed out.) Each episode is bookended by commentary from Uatu The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), reprising his role as the comics’ narrator. The comic-booky animation style takes some getting used to, and the first episode – in which Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) gets the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers – suffers from compressing the entire plot of Captain America: The First Avenger into half an hour. But episode two, which imagines Prince T’Challa of Wakanda becoming Star-Lord instead of that doofus Peter Quill, is a delight, and not just because it lets us hear Chadwick Boseman in the role again. Yes, it’s all fan service, but Bradley and series director Bryan Andrews do the thing all the best comic-book adaptations do: they remind us why these characters have fans in the first place. New episodes available to stream Wednesdays on Disney+ Canada. NNNN (NW)
Available on VOD
Bleed With Me
Lee Marshall, Lauren Beatty, Aris Tyros; directed by Amelia Moses
The Comeback Trail
Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Morgan Freeman; directed by George Gallo
Apple TV, Cineplex, Google Play
Noemie Merlant, Niels Schneider, Camelia Jordana; directed by Lou Jeunet
For Madmen Only: Stories Of Del Close
Documentary directed by Heather Ross
Mark Wahlberg, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Cookson; directed by Antoine Fuqua
Paramount+ Canada, Apple TV, Cineplex, Google Play
Lindsay Burdge, Michael Chernus, Kate Lyn Sheil; directed by David Gutnik
The Meaning Of Hitler
Documentary directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker
John Boyega, Olivia Cooke, Bill Skarsgård; directed by Chase Palmer
Apple TV, Cineplex, Google Play
Udo Kier, Jennifer Coolidge, Linda Evans; directed by Todd Stephens
Toby Jones, Aimee Lou Wood, Roger Allam; directed by Ross Macgibbon
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
Riva Krymalowski, Oliver Masucci, Carla Juri; directed by Caroline Link
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:
For its second year as a virtual festival, IFFSA offers over 100 features, shorts and documentaries and more than 50 events over the course of 11 days. Virtual screenings are free (though web bookings are required), with most titles available for specific 24- or 48-hour windows. This year’s festival pays tribute to Satyajit Ray, with screenings of The Home And The World (available August 12), Charulata (August 13), The Hero (August 14) and The Music Room (August 21) and a keynote address by Kumar Shahani which should be available now in the festival’s livestream archive. Heads up to fans of CTV’s Transplant: you won’t want to miss the closing master class with star Hamza Haq, hosted by Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker (and Transplant producer) Sami Khan. That’s happening August 22 at 5 pm. Mark your calendars.
Through August 22 at iffsatoronto.com
Disc of the week
After Life (Criterion, Blu-ray)
With Edson Oda’s Nine Days opening in theatres this week (see above), there couldn’t be a better time for Criterion to roll out Hirokazu Kore-eda’s equally delicate and magnificent drama, which offers a different angle on the same essential questions about who we are and what we’re supposed to want from existence.
Set in a bureaucratic way station where the newly deceased are processed into their next stage, After Life is mostly made up of interviews with people talking about themselves: they share their happiest memories, their greatest regrets, their most closely guarded secrets. It’s a film about the totality of human experience, and Kore-eda’s intentionally mundane presentation just makes its insights even more powerful: as ordinary as most of his characters are, every one of them is worthy of our attention.
Criterion doesn’t overburden the film with bells and whistles, keeping the supplements modest and focused: a new audio commentary from Linda C. Ehrlich, new interviews with Kore-eda and his cinematographers, Masayoshi Sukita and Yutaka Yamazaki, a gallery of deleted scenes that are engaging but ultimately unnecessary. But they’re all there in service of a new 2K restoration that feels like a layer of grime has been wiped off the image. After Life never looked especially great, but the additional detail offered in Criterion’s high-definition master improves on the 21-year-old old New Yorker DVD release by several orders of magnitude.
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