NOW's critics are watching new films from Manele Labidi and Jay Baruchel, and also the new season of The Umbrella Academy.
NOW’s picks for what to stream this weekend:
The French-language title of writer/director Labidi’s first feature translates to A Couch In Tunis, which offers a much better sense of the wry social satire she’s constructed.
Golshifteh Farahani (Rosewater, Paterson) is Selma, a therapist who comes home to Tunis after a decade in Paris to set up a practice in her family home, only to find untangling her patients’ various eccentricities will be the least of her problems.
Arab Blues can be enjoyed as a simple culture-clash comedy, with Selma’s Westernized approach grating on her more conservative parents – and the community in general – while also bringing her into conflict with a pleasant but unyielding police officer (Majd Mastoura) who seems determined to find a reason to shut her down.
But it’s also about the disconnect of coming home to find you’ve outgrown your world, played against the subtext of a nation girding itself to accept profound change. And Farahani navigates that territory wonderfully, her marvellously deadpan performance finding unexpected angles on Selma’s mounting frustration with the society she’s trying to heal, one person at a time. 89 minutes. Subtitled. Available to rent at Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox. NNNN (Norman Wilner)
There’s something dark and unsettling slithering around in Baruchel’s second feature, adapted by the actor/director and his writing partner Jesse Chabot from a 2010 comic by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.
The movie follows comic writer Todd (Jesse Williams), his girlfriend Kathy (Jordana Brewster), his assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and his publisher Ezra (Baruchel) as their road trip from Toronto to New York City is derailed by a string of murders directly inspired by – or perhaps connected to – Todd’s nightmarish stories of a serial killer called Slasherman.
The premise is comfortingly familiar, but the execution is anything but: Baruchel doesn’t treat either the murders or Todd’s traumatizing childhood backstory as excuses for showy camerawork or elaborate set pieces, instead depicting the brutality of physical violence as ugly, frenzied and cruel. This might divide horror fans looking for some stylish splatter, but I found it thrilling to watch the movie refuse to slot itself into a recognizable genre framework, and just push forward with its mission.
If Goon: Last Of The Enforcers was meant to give fans more of the thing they liked, Random Acts Of Violence is all about asking a different subset of fans why it is that they like their thing – and whether they’re really prepared to consider the ramifications. 80 minutes. Available now on digital and on demand. NNN (NW)
After season 1’s cliffhanger finale, which saw its heroes jumping back in time to stop the apocalypse they themselves had caused, the second season of Netflix’s comic-book series starts up in November 1963.
The superpowered Hargreeves siblings (Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Robert -Sheehan, Emmy Raver-Lampman, David Castañeda) have been scattered across Dallas and forced to make new lives for themselves. And then time-travelling Five (Aidan Gallagher) arrives with news of yet another apocalypse that has to be stopped – and the show gets to make all of the same mistakes it made the first time around.
This season seems almost hell-bent on rehashing old ideas and characters to replay conflicts and character arcs that were already dealt with the first time around. As before, the appealing cast kept me watching episode after episode, hoping the scripts would find a way to extract the potential in their performances.
But every time The Umbrella Academy seems ready to take flight, it gets nervous and falls back to the stuff that worked before – musical numbers, eccentric villains, meaningless ticking clocks and time-travel complications. Yes, it’s splashy and expensive. But once again, it’s all for nothing. All 10 episodes now streaming on Netflix. NN (NW)
The Go-Go’s first new recording in 20 years, Club Zero, debuts at the end of Alison Ellwood’s retrospective look at the trailblazing Los Angeles rock band.
The first all-women group to top the Billboard charts with songs they’d written, this behind-the-music-style rock doc seems to exist primarily to make the case for their inclusion in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The focus is on the Go-Go’s career peak, from the L.A. punk scene in 79 to their break up in 85. All members – past and present – are interviewed.
We learn about the writing of hit singles, key tours and label deals, industry sexism, drug addiction and fights over money and songwriting credits. Ellwood illustrates talking-head interviews with archival material and some very throw-away animation, and pushes things along with perfunctory lines like, “Things were really coming apart.” It couldn’t be more standard, and if you’re familiar with the band at all, you get the sense rougher edges are glossed over.
At a time when conversations about systemic forces are dominant, this film takes a narrow view, boiling the group’s implosion down to individual choices. At the end, we briefly see all five members rehearsing and writing Club Zero together. What is the song about? What is their rapport? Are they still money hungry? It’s a rare vérité moment that suggests the more challenging film that could have been made. 96 min. Airs on Showtime Friday (July 31) and streams on Crave. NN (Kevin Ritchie)
Golshifteh Farahani, Majd Mastoura, Aïsha Ben Miled; directed by Manele Labidi
Documentary directed by Scott Crawford
Documentary directed by Sue Williams
Documentary directed by Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman and Eli Despres
Documentary directed by Jared P. Scott
Nathanael Chadwick, Amaan Morrell, Frank D’Angelo; directed by Kier Paputts
Jesse Williams, Jordana Brewster, Jay Baruchel; directed by Jay Baruchel
Romany Malco, Regina Hall, Tami Roman; directed by Romany Malco
Voices of Alison Brie, Lee Pace, Riz Ahmed; directed by Matoko Shinkai
Lorenzo’s Oil (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
Most people know George Miller as the kinetic, intuitive action director who gave us four Mad Max movies, culminating in the exquisitely choreographed chaos of 2015’s Fury Road. (And rightly so.) But before he picked up a camera, he trained and worked as a doctor, and that medical knowledge informs this devastating 1992 drama which tells the true story of Augusto and Michaela Odone, two very determined parents who devised a treatment for their young son’s terminal adrenoleukodystrophy when conventional medicine had given up. Rather than turn the Odone’s story into an inspirational tale of scrappy folks who pushed back against Big Pharma, Miller and co-writer Nick Enright lean into the Odone’s anguish, making a harrowing drama about two people watching their child slipping away from them day by day. And in Nick Nolte and the Oscar-nominated Susan Sarandon, Miller finds actors who can live in the couple’s crushing despair, and then show us how they clawed their way out to find the hope that drove them onward. This isn’t an easy watch, but it might be Miller’s best film. It’s ridiculous that Lorenzo’s Oil has never been available on disc in North America until now. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray offers a new audio commentary by critic Peter Tonguette. Available at local retailers, and online from Unobstructed View.