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Including reviews of Allen Vs. Farrow, Anne At 13,000 Ft, I Care A Lot, Supernova, Supervillain and more
Mia Farrow with her kids Ronan (then known as Satchel) and Dylan.
NOW critics pick what’s new to streaming and VOD for the weekend of February 19. Plus: Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms.
(Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering)
There’s so much we already know about the abuse allegations against Woody Allen. The Annie Hall director was accused of sexually assaulting his adopted seven-year-old daughter Dylan Farrow in 1992. Instead of new information, Allen v. Farrow has renewed interest on its side. The four-part doc series presents buried details to a generation that is much more perceptive to victims’ stories after the #MeToo-era, which Dylan Farrow had a hand in fuelling.
Allen v. Farrow is predictably gutting when revisiting the traumatizing events, as well as the troubling behaviour that envelopes them (like Allen’s indiscretions with Mia Farrow’s daughter Soon-Yi Previn) and the swift gaslighting that followed.
On the one hand, the clearly authorized take directed by The Hunting Ground duo Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering can feel one-sided, missing a few unflattering beats about the Farrow clan’s troubled family life. On the other hand, none of the overlooked material takes away from Dylan Farrow’s story, which is always centred in Dick and Ziering’s series.
Allen v. Farrow is at its most revealing and implicating when it considers how the media and culture is susceptible to irrelevant details, pervasive PR spins and the narratives doctored by the men the public wants to love, blindly. Premieres Sunday (February 21) at 9 pm on Crave, with subsequent episodes airing weekly. NNNN (Radheyan Simonpillai)
Deragh Campbell stars in Ann at 13,000 Ft.
If the Dardenne brothers remade A Woman Under The Influence, it might look a lot like Radwanski’s latest study of a Torontonian in a slow-motion crisis: this time, his protagonist is a young day-care worker whose equilibrium is slipping out of her grasp. Her name is Anne, and we’re trapped with her as she spirals through a couple of very bad weeks, self-medicating with alcohol and refusing offers of help from friends, parents and lovers. Anne is played by the remarkable Deragh Campbell (of O Brazen Age!, Never Eat Alone and Fail To Appear), who is utterly, completely present in every moment. Radwanski’s close-up strategy means Nikolay Michaylov’s camera is trained almost constantly on her face, capturing every nervous laugh, every flash of panic, every frantic attempt to turn a blurted cry for help into a joke. The movie around her (just announced as a finalist for the Toronto Film Critics Association’s $100,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film award) is just as riveting, steadily building in intensity and empathy until we know precisely how Anne feels – and it’s almost unbearable. Which is the point, of course. 75 min. Available to rent Friday (February 19) at digital TIFF Bell Lightbox. NNNN (Norman Wilner)
Hinterland director Macqueen’s second feature is a quiet and tasteful picture about a middle-aged gay couple taking a road trip through England in their sturdy old RV. British-born Sam (Colin Firth) is a pianist on his way to play a concert in the country; along the way he visits his sister and her family. Tusker (Stanley Tucci) is a witty, American-born novelist with a passion for astronomy. He’s also living with dementia and his condition is worsening, making this trip a symbolic one in their long relationship. There’s something studiously inoffensive about the film, from its picture postcard landscapes and cozy interiors to the warm sweaters both men – who have played gay characters before and seem believably comfortable and affectionate with each other – wear. I wish there were more scenes like the early one in which Tusker calls out a restaurant server for what he senses as polite homophobia. And it’s too bad we don’t get more glimpses of what the men were like when they were younger. Instead, it’s a moving story about a couple dealing in different ways with loss, with the occasional creaky bit of astronomical symbolism to give their lives more depth. 93 min. On VOD Tuesday (February 16) and digital TIFF Bell Lightbox Friday (February 19). NNN (Glenn Sumi)
Six years -after Gone Girl, Rosamund Pike finally gets the chance to play another irredeemable person – and this time, she really gets to have fun with it. This dark-comic thriller from writer/director Blakeson makes the most of Pike’s gift for frosty implacability, casting her as Marla, a professional legal guardian who preys on vulnerable senior citizens, dumping them into care homes, selling off their assets and moving on to her next mark. Until, that is, she sets her sights on a grandmotherly widow (Dianne Wiest) whose institutionalization leads her very protective, very violent son (Peter Dinklage) to declare war on Marla… and Marla doesn’t back down. There’s a very specific pleasure to be had in watching terrible people locked in an escalating battle of wills, and even when things get bloody, Blakeson (The Disappearance Of Alice Creed) makes sure we understand this is a comedy, using cheerful colours and heightened cinematography to set the action at a slight remove from reality. Also, it’s just a blast to watch Pike and Dinklage rip into the script, giving these monsters little flashes of humanity while still encouraging us to root against them. 118 min. Available on Amazon Prime Video Friday (February 19). NNNN (NW)
(Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead)
The new film from Benson & Moorhead – the gleeful genre-benders behind Resolution, Spring and The Endless – splices their trippy DNA into a crime procedural. It follows two New Orleans paramedics (Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan) who keep getting called to bizarre death scenes, all of which appear to involve the eponymous designer drug. That’s how it starts, anyway. Where Synchronic ends up is somewhere very different, and how it gets there is a wildly unpredictable path, and I’m pretty sure Benson (who also writes) and Moorhead (who also shoots) don’t want me to divulge any of its twists and shifts. It’s also likely to be their most divisive film to date – even more so than The Endless – mainly because casual viewers might not know how to process the thing it becomes in its second half. I gave myself over to the ride, trusting the filmmakers and actors to find a coherent through-line, and I’m pretty sure it worked out for the best. And if it doesn’t fully gel for you, the VOD model gives you the opportunity to rewatch it right away. 101 min. Now available on digital and on demand. NNN (NW)
Tekashi 6ix9ine is very much alive but the people interviewed in this three-part series refer to him in the past tense. Supervillain is the latest pop-star documentary to unpack how our idols reflect the wider culture. And while it took Britney Spears two decades to get the prestige doc treatment, the problematic rainbow-haired Brooklynite – true to his accelerated ascendency – gets it in four years. The thesis is that 6ix9ine, having suffered childhood traumas, caclulatingly channeled his angst into a self-styled “supervillain” image. He became a rapper, despite not particularly caring about hip-hop, and ingratiated himself into New York City gang culture. His social media trolling made him notorious, and his willingness to be unlikable endeared him to fans while attracting media.
Director Gill intersperses narration by actor Giancarlo Esposito, who breaks down the “elements of a supervillain” over stop-motion images of a 6ix9ine doll being crafted in a kitschy, aseptic lab. The cultural essay angle – the metaphor feels belaboured by the third hour – isn’t as dramatic as the messy unravelling of 6ix9ine’s inner circle that results from his callous careerism and unchecked rage. Many insightful interview subjects articulate the tension between the shifting media landscape and the familiar kinds of hurt that reverberates out from 6ix9ine’s actions, especially the breathtakingly Machiavellian climax. We get that his career is manufactured, but ultimately the series musters little more than a cynical shrug when it comes to the manufacturing consent part. All three episodes premiere on Crave on Sunday (February 21). NNN (Kevin Ritchie)
Documentary directed by Marc Blumberg
Deragh Campbell, Lawrene Denkers, Matt Johnson; directed by Kazik Radwanski
Documentary directed by Todd Douglas Miller
Judi Dench, Isla Fisher, Dan Stevens; directed by Edward Hall
Kelly Kay, Tatyana Olal, Garrett Johnson; directed by James Watts
Milla Jovovich, Ron Perelman, Tony Jaa; directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Kaitlyn Bernard, Brenna Llewellyn, Brenna Coates; directed by Courtney Paige
Documentary directed by Lance Oppenheim
Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood; directed by Harry Macquene
Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Ally Ioannides; directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Brittany S. Hall, Will Brill, Gail Bean; directed by Sharata Michelle Ford
Documentary directed by Garin Hovannisian
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:
It’s got a smaller footprint this year, and like every other festival it’s an online experience (streaming through the Hot Docs At Home platform), but the HRW remains one of the best showcases for filmmakers advocating for change and looking to enlighten audiences about specific issues around the world. The festival opens with Maxx Caicedo and Nelson G. Navarrete’s A La Calle, which follows Venezuelan citizens organizing actions against the dictator Nicolás Maduro; also screening this year are Peter Mirumi’s I Am Samuel, which screened at Hot Docs 2020; Claudia Sparrow’s Maxima (reviewed by NOW at Hot Docs 2019); Eva Mulvad’s Love Child, which premiered at TIFF 2019, and Dea Gjinovci’s wrenching Wake Up On Mars. The entire program is free to stream, and all films are supplemented by Q&As with the filmmakers.
Through Monday (February 22) at Hot Docs At Home
With travel curtailed due to the pandemic, you can get outdoors virtually with the VIMFF, a 10-day online festival of films, panels and workshops for the global outdoor community. Of possible interest: Crux, a short documentary about a recovering addict who finds focus through rock climbing; Fly The Roof, which follows four young New Zealanders as they set the seemingly impossible challenge of paragliding from the summit of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, and Lost At Sea, in which Louis Bird attempts to understand his father Peter, who was the first person to single-handedly row across the Pacific – and who died at sea when Louis was just four.
Through February 28 at VIMFF.org
As much fun as Margot Robbie might be having playing DC’s goofball antihero, the live-action Suicide Squad and Birds Of Prey don’t really showcase the character to her fullest. Maybe it’s just that animation is better suited to the elastic sensibility of The Joker’s most ardent admirer; it was, after all, where she came from in the first place. But even so, Warner Animation’s Harley Quinn series is a remarkable accomplishment, spinning the bat-wielding, Batman-loathing Harley – voiced here by a spiky, energetic Kaley Cuoco – into an entirely new series of adventures as she breaks off her toxic relationship with The Joker (Alan Tudyk) and sets out to establish herself as a supervillain on her own terms, take over Gotham City and maybe figure out why she keeps coming back to the prickly Poison Ivy (Lake Bell). Difficult to find in Canada because of the whole DC Universe thing, the first two seasons are now collected in a single package for fans to discover at their chosen pace … though we wouldn’t blame you if you just binged all 26 episodes in the space of a weekend. The show is so much better than anyone could have expected, with curveball plots, a killer voice cast of comic performers (among them Ron Funches as King Shark, Tony Hale as Dr. Psycho, Andy Daly as Two-Face, Diedrich Bader as an especially glum Batman and Tudyk, again, as Clayface) and a genuine tenderness in its depiction of Harley and Ivy’s long-running attraction. The absence of any special features whatsoever is disappointing … but given the current state of physical media, it’s a miracle this show made it to disc at all.