Including Nomadland, Sugar Daddy, The Nevers, Held and Exterminate All The Brutes
NOW critics pick what’s new to streaming and VOD for the weekend of April 9. Plus: Everything new to VOD and streaming platforms.
NOW named Kelly McCormack one of Canada’s rising screen stars in 2019. Watch Sugar Daddy and you’ll see why: Morgan’s slightly stylized, emotionally charged drama stars the Letterkenny and Killjoys scene-stealer – most recently seen as an unwelcome guest in Ginny & Georgia – as a struggling musician who joins an agency that provides “paid dinner companions” to older men who don’t want emotional attachments, or anything further. Naturally, the reality of it turns out to be a little more complicated. McCormack wrote and produced the film, and does her own singing, but Sugar Daddy’s not just a showcase for her eccentric, electric screen presence; Colm Feore gives one of the best performances of his career as one of her clients – he was just nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for it, one of three nods for the film – and the supporting cast features a host of Toronto faces, from Jess Salgueiro, Amanda Brugel, Ishan Davé and Kaniehtiio Horn to McCormack’s Killjoys pals Aaron Ashmore and Rob Stewart. 100 min. Now available on digital and on demand. NNNN (Norman Wilner)
(Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff)
Ever since The Invisible Man, the upper-class wife whose luxury real estate becomes an overbearing metaphor for her isolating marriage seems to have become a go-to set-up for indie filmmakers. Last year we had Swallow and The Nest, and this year that plot gets a straight-up genre treatment in Held. The perennially pained-looking Emma (Jill Awbrey, who also wrote the script) is clearly over her square-jawed husband Henry (Bart Johnson), but they’re giving it one more try by escaping to a secluded, automated smart house vacation rental. Naturally, the property’s version of Alexa has other plans – drugging them and forcing them into chivalrous machinations straight out of a 1950s marriage manual. Held doesn’t hold back, skimping on character development, rushing into the concept and mainly using the first act to set things up to pay off later. Basic druggy montages, a visually uninteresting set and an even more uninspired baddie sap Held’s creep factor. Awbrey’s script is uninterested in the couples’ thoughts, feelings or lives, much less why they got married or why it’s no longer working. It puts the audience through the same old routine without offering any insight beyond patriarchy = bad. If you want to sit through a bad marriage movie, you can do so much better. 94 mins. Available Friday (April 9) on VOD platforms. N (Kevin Ritchie)
I Am Not Your Negro director Raoul Peck returns to the essay film format with a four-part digressive exploration of colonialism, white supremacy and genocide. Inspired by three history books and Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, Exterminate All The Brutes challenges official narratives, dismantling the doctrine of discovery and connecting genocide to private property, class hierarchy and profiteering. But, as Peck states in his often punchy narrations, he is more interested in meaning than truth; circumventing a “winners and losers” dichotomy to illustrate what the quest for power has cost in human life over the past 700 years. It’s an unflinchingly violent and confrontational film that uses scripted scenes (starring Josh Hartnett as a ruthless colonial settler), animation and archival footage to explicitly show the ways Indigenous, Black and Jewish populations in Africa, Europe and North America have been brutalized, from dumdum bullets and starvation to lynching and the Holocaust. Peck has lived in Haiti, Congo, Germany and the U.S., and mixes in personal musings on his place in the world. He’s also playfully provocative, scoring Eva Braun’s home movies of Hitler with Bunny Wailer. And in the spirit of James Baldwin, he draws on Hollywood clips to show mythmaking in action, and underscore his point that ignorance is a conscious choice. But it mostly feels like Peck is addressing people who are in denial of this history, and who need to be shocked with brutal violence into reframing their thinking. Exterminate All The Brutes is both compelling and jumbled, and inextricably wedded to current reckonings. All four parts streaming on Crave. NNN (KR)
After bouncing around Disney’s Canadian release schedule for months, every theatrical window thwarted by COVID, Zhao’s simple, elegant drama finally premieres on Disney+ this week. It’s not ideal, but at least you can see the damn thing – and why it’s currently up for six Oscars. A simple, elegant dramatization of Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction book about working-class Americans of a certain age who’ve reinvented themselves as itinerant workers in the American West, Nomadland stars Frances McDormand as Fern, whose perspective we share as she hits the road in her white panel van. In Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider, Zhao cast non-professionals as versions of themselves and placed them within fictional narratives that diverged from their own histories. With McDormand at the centre of Nomadland, it all snaps together: the two-time Oscar winner shares the frame with literally dozens of non-professionals over the course of the film – some of whom appear in Bruder’s book, others who just seem to have wandered in from the parking lot next door – and in every single moment, McDormand is utterly, achingly present: listening to them, encouraging them, matching their specific rhythms, all without ever breaking character. It’s a stunning technical performance hidden in plain sight in the best film of 2020. 107 min. Available to stream Friday (April 9) on Disney+. NNNNN (NW)
Courtesy of Bell Media
(Joss Whedon, Philippa Goslett)
The Nevers was to be Joss Whedon’s first television series since Dollhouse, and though the writer/director/producer departed the series last November, claiming exhaustion – shortly before cast members of his previous projects came forward with accusations of abusive behaviour dating back to his Buffy The Vampire Slayer days – it’s still very much his baby. The Nevers is Buffy and Firefly with lashings of Marvel’s X-Men, with Whedon’s remixing mildly disguised by setting the whole thing in 1899 London, three years after an inexplicable incident left hundreds of people – all of them marginalized, most of them women –with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men. Outlander’s Laura Donnelly and Vikings’ Ann Skelly are the show’s centre, a prognosticator and a technological genius who run a home for their fellow “Touched,” protecting them from the entrenched power structure that sees them as a threat. The show’s first four episodes are a little on the messy side, but undeniably entertaining: Whedon knows how to balance banter and action, how to use them to illuminate his characters and how to hide fun surprises in the structure of a given episode. And to watch The Nevers is to be angry all over again that the artist failed utterly to live up to the ideals of his work. Read a full review here. Premieres Sunday (April 11) at 9 pm on Crave; new episodes weekly. NNN (NW)
Pal Sverre Hagen, Christian Rubeck, Katherine Waterston; directed by Espen Sandberg
Adrian Burke, Ariella Mastroianni, Grant Schumacher; directed by Bruce Wimple
Romina Perazzo, Domingo Guzman, Carolina Escobar; directed by Patricio Valladares
Jill Awbrey, Bart Johnson, Rez Kempton; directed by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff
Ernesto Reyes, Jesse Tayeh; directed by Jon Garcia
Documentary directed by Robin Lutz
Kai Luke Brummer, Ryan de Villiers, Matthew Vey; directed by Oliver Hermanus
Jasna Djuricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Boris Ler; directed by Jasmila Zbanic
William Shatner, Jean Smart, Christopher Lloyd; directed by Giorgio Serafini
With the voices of Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina and Gemma Chan; directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada
Kelly McCormack, Colm Feore, Amanda Brugel; directed by Wendy Morgan
Everything coming to streaming platforms this month:
Of all Mike Leigh’s studies of quiet British despair, Secrets & Lies might be the single most powerful. Even more than the denial-driven protagonists of Life Is Sweet and Happy-Go-Lucky or the stagnating couple at the heart of All Or Nothing, the newly reunited mother and daughter on whom Leigh hangs his Oscar-nominated 1996 drama are achingly, palpably human from each moment to the next – and Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste give them such depth and complexity that even at its most mundane, Secrets & Lies makes you feel like you’re looking through a window rather than watching a screen. And a quarter-century later, the film plays like a time capsule of a more optimistic England… which, given Leigh’s general worldview, is really saying something.
Criterion’s release presents the film in a new digital restoration that preserves its slightly dingy visual scheme, and while the lack of an audio commentary from Leigh is a little disappointing – he’s recorded them for a number of his films, including the Criterion release of Life Is Sweet, and I would have loved to hear him revisit the verité intimacy of this project after more technically ambitious projects like Topsy-Turvy, Mr Turner and Peterloo – but there’s a new conversation between the director and composer Gary Yershon, and an archival audio interview with film critic Michel Ciment. The disc also includes a conversation between co-star Jean-Baptiste and critic Corrina Antrobus, and an essay by critic and programmer Ashley Clark.
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