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Including Master Of None: Moments In Love, Army Of The Dead and Riders Of Justice
(Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang)
The Netflix series’ third season is about people navigating the spoils and pitfalls of capital-S success as they get dangerously close to middle age. This time around, the story shifts away from Ansari’s Dev to tightly focus on Lena Waithe’s Denise, now a literary celebrity, who lives in a beautiful and isolated country home in upstate New York with her wife Alicia (Naomi Ackie). Denise isn’t making much progress on the follow-up to her hit debut book, and Alicia is keen to have a child. These pressures force the couple to examine their compatibility and values in long-take scenes that mix slow cinema repetition, explosive melodrama and cringe comedy. The deceptively serene trappings gradually come to represent a tension, though Ansari and Waithe’s script drops in devices – like visits from Dev and a journalist – to spell out backstory, context and subtext.
Episodes vary in length and in one, Alicia becomes the central focus in an issue-driven story that serves as a great showpiece for Ackie. Director Ansari’s self-consciously art-house aesthetic is matched with a desire to upend the expectations of TV structure, but at the end of the day this is a series full of plot twists and cliffhangers. And yet, through all of that, Moments In Love successfully keeps focus on specific details to suggest the intensity of Denise’s isolation. Without casting a clear point of view on the characters, the series captures the push-and-pull between between personal choice and external pressures. Five episodes available to stream on Sunday (May 23) on Netflix Canada. NNNN (Kevin Ritchie)
Almost 20 years after launching his career with a high-octane remake of Dawn Of The Dead, director/co-writer Snyder returns to the genre with a bigger, more expensive vision. After a zombie outbreak turns Las Vegas into a hot zone, a team of mercenaries (Dave Bautista, Ana de la Reguera, Omari Hardwick, Tig Notaro) is hired to extract $200 million in abandoned cash from a casino vault, just days before the city is nuked. Abandoning the super-seriousness that weighed down his superhero pictures, Snyder – who co-wrote the film and also acts as his own cinematographer this time around – attacks the material with what can only be described as hammerhead enthusiasm, plunging gleefully into spectacular depictions of human-on-zombie violence while also mashing up elements of Romero’s Land Of The Dead, Marc Forster’s World War Z, Yeon Sang-ho’s Train To Busan films and James Cameron’s Aliens. Did it need to be two and a half hours long? Not really, but the Vegas setting both invites and excuses such excess, especially since that means more time to appreciate how nuanced and engaging an actor Bautista has become in recent years. He really carries this thing on his back. Full review here. 147 min. Available to stream Friday (May 21) on Netflix Canada. NNN (Norman Wilner)
(Danielle Peck, James Rogan, Asif Kapadia)
Apple’s documentary miniseries sets out to argue that 1971 marked a clear shift in Western culture, when popular music reflected and amplified the issues of justice, equality and empowerment for which we’re still fighting half a century later. Using supervising director Kapadia’s signature aesthetic of contextualizing archival footage with post-facto audio interviews – as seen in Senna, Diego Maradona and the Oscar-winning Amy – each episode tries to tackle one aspect of the cultural shift, such as drugs, gender, queerness and civil rights. You can feel the filmmakers straining to compress a movement into 45 minutes, and some of the editorial choices are questionable. (Does Elton John really belong in an episode about the authenticity wave driven by singer/songwriters like Carole King and Joni Mitchell?) But then 1971 delivers a moment like David Bowie’s unpolished, exquisite performance of “Changes” – at Glastonbury, to a crowd that’s barely awake – and it’s as if the show throws opens a window to a moment in time when it actually felt like a generation could save the world from itself. Full review here. All eight episodes available to stream Friday (May 21) on Apple TV+. NNN (NW)
A young -couple (Tommie-Amber Pirie, Sarah Allen) head out to cottage country for a weekend getaway, only to find they’re the latest targets of a shadowy cabal of rural torture-murderers. It’s a premise that’s powered dozens of survival-horror movies, if not hundreds, but The Retreat puts a new twist on the story by telling it through a queer lens. Venturing into horror for the first time, director Mills (Guidance, Don’t Talk To Irene) and writer/producer Alyson Richards make sure to root everything in character, establishing Pirie’s Renee and Allen’s Valerie as fully realized people from very different backgrounds before all the screaming and running starts. The Retreat isn’t just pitting gay heroes against straight villains as a thought experiment: it’s making sure we understand where Renee’s strength comes from. And Pirie – whom you may know from The Go-Getters, Michael: Every Day or Bitten – is a formidable presence in the role: she rarely gets projects that offer her this level of intensity, but she always delivers when she does. 82 min. Available on VOD platforms everywhere Friday (May 21). NNNN (NW)
Writer/director Jensen and his Men & Chicken star Mads Mikkelsen reunite for another pitch-black comedy about imperfect men struggling to understand why the world is the way it is. Where that film explored genetics and predestination, this one’s about chaos theory and grief, with Mikkelsen as Markus, a Danish soldier who returns to Copenhagen after his wife is among a dozen people killed in a tram disaster; he’s soon approached by a trio of scientists (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro) obsessed with the idea that the accident wasn’t an accident, but was in fact a targeted hit on an ex-biker who was about to testify against the leader of his gang. The only logical move, then, is to take brutal revenge on the gang… which, of course, invites violent and unpredictable reprisal. In less eccentric hands this would be a straight-up revenge picture, but Jensen’s not interested in playing to the genre; he’d rather explore the fury that drives Markus to ignore his traumatized daughter (Andrea Heick Gadeberg) and seek retribution rather than therapy, and the way guilt and pain drive his new comrades-in-arms to convince themselves data is truth. It won’t help any of them, but they keep doubling down. 116 min. Subtitled. Available on VOD platforms everywhere Friday (May 21). NNN (NW)
Charlie Tahan, Kara Hayward, Zach Cherry; directed by John Carlucci
Mila Kunis, Glenn Close, Stephen Root; directed by Rodrigo Garcia
Tommie-Amber Pirie, Sarah Allen, Aaron Ashmore; directed by Pat Mills
Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg; directed by Anders Thomas Jensen
Suki Waterhouse, Inanna Sarkis, Madisen Beaty; directed by Simon Barrett
Laura Wiggins, Marshall Williams, Gregg Henry; directed by Robert Adetuyi
Harry Baird, Nicole Berger, Tria French; directed by Melvin Van Peebles
Barry Pepper, Laura Vandervoort, Colm Feore; directed by Brad Turner
Ruby Rose, Morgan Freeman, Patrick Muldoon; directed by George Gallo
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:
Diana Vidrascu’s striking Silence Of The Sirens screens at Images Festival
The annual celebration of experimental and avant-garde film and video was the first Toronto festival to pivot to a streaming model when the pandemic hit last year, and the 2021 edition will be just as virtual, and just as free. (That said, if you wanted to make a donation to the festival in lieu of a ticket, that’d be entirely cool.)
The festival is running to a schedule, with programs playing in real time; if you miss a window, that’s it. So keep an eye on the clock, and keep an eye out for made, remade, unmade (May 21, 8:30 pm), which includes the striking Homeric vision of Diana Vidrascu’s Silence Of The Sirens and Shambhavi Kaul’s hypnotic, depopulated Mount Song, and techniques of observation (May 25, 8 pm), a selection of politically loaded pieces that includes Kush Badhwar’s Blood Earth, about a farming village in Odisha, India, that sits atop a valuable cache of bauxite and has attracted the attention of a powerful mining concern, and Lindsay McIntyre’s where she stood in the first place, which takes stock of Baker Lake, Nunavut – the geographic centre of Canada – in haunting black-and-white 16mm images.
And don’t miss the chance to see Will Kwan’s If All You Have Is A Hammer, Everything Looks Like A Nail (May 24, 1 pm). Produced in 2014, Kwan’s video triptych reworks a 1982 John Massey installation about a driver and a hitchhiker into a study of a white, female realtor (Lisa Anita Wagner) driving a younger Asian man (Michael Man) around the GTA, looking at homes for sale in various neighbourhoods. Seven years later, its quietly pointed observations about race, class and Toronto haven’t lost any of their edge. Hopefully Kwan will discuss that sad reality in his artist talk with Yan Wu, Markham’s curator of public art, immediately following the screening.
Streaming free through Wednesday (May 26) at imagesfestival.com.
The death of Charles Grodin earlier this week casts a bit of a pall over Shout! Factory’s loving new special edition of John Guillermin’s generally loathed remake of the 1933 fantasy classic. Grodin played the movie’s heavy, a dead-eyed oil executive who brings the giant ape to New York to be the face of the oil industry, or something. He’s awfully convincing as an empty safari suit, showing no empathy at all for the two civilians who wind up joining him on the journey to a mysterious island in the Atlantic Ocean. (It’s Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, both of whom commit fully to their one-dimensional characters of “environmentalist” and “starlet,” respectively.)
The trio’s performances are the only reason the movie is even the tiniest bit watchable; Lange’s so good at inhabiting scattered scenester Dwan that people thought she couldn’t act, but of course she’s acting for two, since most of her scenes are spent acting against the absence of the 40-foot animatronic ape that was supposed to be a visual-effects breakthrough, but ended up stiff and unconvincing that all Guillermin’s team ended up using was its hands. The majority of Kong’s screen time is performed by Rick Baker in a gorilla suit on miniature sets, and while the suit is impressive it’s also very clear that Baker simply isn’t interacting with the other performers on any level, which makes it impossible to for Kong to emerge as a character the way he does in every other version of the story. The result is a movie that just can’t compensate for the hole at its centre, and which grinds on for two and a quarter hours without ever capturing the magic of Merian C. Cooper and Ernst B. Schoedsack created with soundstages and felt.
Still, this version of King Kong has its defenders, and they’ll be delighted with Scream Factory’s special edition, a two-disc set that presents the film in a fine widescreen restoration (with a new 5.1 DTS-HD audio mix), and supports it with separate audio commentaries from Baker and author Ray Morton and six featurettes examining various aspects of the movie through remote interviews; the best one offers industry lifers Scott Thaler and Jeffrey Chernov (unit production manager and executive producer, respectively, on projects like Black Panther, Star Trek Beyond and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) reminiscing about the production from their very specific points of view in producer Dino De Laurentiis’s office.
The second disc will be the holy grail for die-hard fans: it’s the first release of the extended NBC television cut of the movie, which adds another 48 minutes of material so that it could be broadcast over two nights in 1978. (It only aired once.) The restored footage – which is also presented in widescreen, and looks a lot better than I thought it would – doesn’t make the movie any better, but it does extend several action scenes and offer an explanation for how Bridges’s character managed to stow away aboard the Benthic Explorer.
The disc also includes an hour-long American Cinematheque panel with Baker, cast member Jack O’Halloran, director of photography Richard H. Kline, John Barry associate Richard Kraft and Martha de Laurentiis, moderated by Morton. recorded in 2016 at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. It’s everything Kong 76 superfans could want. Both of them. (NW)