We Need to Talk About Cosby
(W. Kamau Bell)
The conversation feels complicated but the approach in We Need to Talk About Cosby is surprisingly simple. Each of the four episodes covers approximately a decade in Bill Cosby’s career, beginning in the '60 when he was a fast-rising comic playing in white spaces, playing off the civil rights era and the broader culture in fascinating ways.
Writer-director Bell doesn’t deny or subdue his astonishment and appreciation for Cosby’s talents and achievements. Instead, the series balances what seems like a glowing biography with Cosby’s heinous conduct. A fraction of the women who've claimed they were raped by Cosby recall what they can of their experiences here. Other testimonies that describe a nearly identical MO are played from archival interview footage. As the episodes continue, a pattern emerges. The more successful Cosby got, the more victims' claims emerged.
At first it seems that Cosby’s work and his private conduct are on parallel tracks, as if the series subscribes to a separation of the art from the artist. But the tracks merge. The talking heads explain how Cosby carefully weaponized his success. He played the educator, the dignified leader, the loving father, and an OBGYN, the kind of doctor women better damn sure feel safe with. And he often invited a conflation of his characters and his real-life persona as a family man who liked to be referred to as Dr. Bill Cosby (he got a doctorate in education). He curated an image of a trustworthy figure (“America’s Dad”) that he could then use to victimize women.
As Prof. Jelani Cobb explains in the series, Cosby’s homey and inspiring image and his crimes aren’t as diametrically opposed as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “There’s a compelling case that it’s all Mr. Hyde,” he says. Premieres Sunday (January 30) on Crave. (Radheyan Simonpillai)
When a high-school reunion afterparty ends with a rap star (Dave Franco) dead, his former classmates are interrogated by a detective (Tiffany Haddish) bent on figuring out what happened—and each person’s flashback is presented in a different genre, because The Afterparty is a comedy series from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who never pass up the chance to play with form. (Miller directs all eight episodes; Lord produces and co-writes.) The result is a loose, funny character comedy that keeps doubling back on itself, morphing into rom-com, action, thriller, teen house-party picture and even a full-on musical to illuminate its characters, build ingenious comic set pieces and spin a genuinely intriguing mystery: think Knives Out, but with deliriously catchy musical numbers. The cast is a murderer’s row of funny people, with Sam Richardson, Ike Barinholtz, Ben Schwartz, Ilana Glazer, Jamie Demetriou, Zoë Chao, and Franco all creating consistent characters within the elastic concept, while Haddish and John Early’s investigators puzzle through their stories. I’ve been watching a lot of television, and The Afterparty feels like the most fun I’ve had in like a thousand years. New episodes Fridays on Apple TV+. (Norman Wilner)
In from the Cold
Accompanying her daughter’s team to a figure skating championship in Barcelona, unassuming suburban mom Jenny Franklin (Margareta Levieva) is outed as a former Russian secret agent known as the Whisperer by a shifty American (Cillian O’Sullivan), and pressed into service to expose a mind-control conspiracy that may or may not be tied to Spanish nationalists. Created by Supernatural veteran Adam Glass, In from the Cold has the vaguely goofy, up-for-anything appeal of that show, with a polished cast playing out an increasingly preposterous story without ever winking to the camera. Cutting back and forth between present-day Jenny resentfully kick-punching her way through the Spanish locations and her origin story as a Moscow club kid (Millie Bobbie Brown lookalike Stasya Miloslavskaya) roped into service by a sinister spymaster (Alyona Khmelnitskaya), it’s a popcorn show that revels in yes-anding itself into ever more ridiculous corners. If you’re not on board by the big reveal at the end of the first episode, this may not be the show for you—but I kept right on hitting “continue” to see what would happen next. All eight episodes now available to stream on Netflix Canada. (NW)
The Woman In The House Across The Street From The Girl In The Window
(Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson, Larry Dorf)
In what seems to be a spoof of those paranoid-white-lady thrillers that were briefly popular a few years back, Kristen Bell stars as Anna, an alcoholic divorcée haunted by the death of her young daughter. When handsome widower Neil (Tom Riley) moves in across the street with his own little girl (Samsara Yett), Anna is drawn to them—only to see Neil’s girlfriend Lisa (Shelley Hennig) murdered one stormy night. As Anna tries to figure out what’s going on, bodies start piling up like empty wine bottles. Creators Ramras, Davidson and Dorf—a trio of actor-comedians who cocreated and starred in the Paramount sitcom Nobodies a couple of years back—perfectly replicate the polished, affluent texture of a Girl On The Train or a Woman in the Window. But they neglect to put the slightest comic spin on the material: entire episodes of this show pass without a single joke, which seems like something that should have been addressed at some point in the production. I guess that’s what happens when you inflate a five-minute sketch premise to the length of The Godfather Part II. All eight episodes now available to stream on Netflix Canada. (NW)
Available on VOD
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes
Kazunari Tosa, Riko Fukitani, Aki Asakura; directed by Junta Yamaguchi
Stephen Moyer, Colm Meaney, Clare-Hope Ashitey; directed by David Beton
Death of a Telemarketer
Lamorne Morris, Jackie Earle Haley, Haley Joel Osment; directed by Khaled Ridgeway
Julie Delpy, Sophia Ally, Richard Armitage; directed by Julie Delpy
Stephan James, J.K. Simmons, Alexander Ludwig; directed by Ric Roman Waugh
Scott Adkins, Ashley Greene, Ryan Phillippe; directed by James Nunn
Alicia Silverstone, James Tupper, Deirdre O’Connell; directed by Le-Van Kiet
Two Deaths of Henry Baker
Gil Bellows, Tony Curran, Jess Salgueiro; directed by Felipe Mucci
Everything on streaming platforms this month:
Disc of the week
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Film Movement, Blu-ray)
While we all wait for Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s critically beloved Drive My Car to make it to VOD, the curators at the Film Movement label just released his other 2021 feature on disc. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is a smaller, more modest offering, an anthology of three short tales about people figuring things out in contemporary Tokyo.
It’s subtle and measured in much the same way as Drive My Car, and indeed all of the filmmaker’s work, but the lack of emotional heft might make some people regard it as a lesser accomplishment. That’s unfair; Hamaguchi’s just doing something different with this one, asking more modest questions about who we are and what we mean to one another.
Magic (Or Something Less Assuring) finds best friends Tsugumi (Hynrui) and Meiko (Furukawa Kotone) unaware that they’re both tangled up with the same man (Ayumu Nakajima). Door Wide Open revolves around a student (Shouma Kai) roping his girlfriend (Katsuki Mori) into a revenge plot against a professor (Kiyohiko Shibukawa). And Once Again, set in the aftermath of an internet blackout, follows two older women (Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai), former school friends, reconnecting after decades apart.
Each story plays out in Hamaguchi’s signature observational mode, the film serving as a delivery system for the performances and the world he builds around them. He trusts his actors to tell the story, and we’re encouraged to watch them more and more closely as the narratives unfold; as in all of his work, he strips away all artifice to get to a profound moment of connection. Those moments are a little more delicate here, a little less devastating, but that doesn’t mean we should care any less about the people in them.
The Blu-ray includes an interview with Hamaguchi conducted in subtitled Japanese by film programmer Aiko Masubuchi, and – as is customary with Film Movement releases—a short film with a thematic connection to the feature. Here, it’s Neo Sora’s 2020 short film "The Chicken", a look at the Japanese immigrant experience in America through a very specific, rather messy lens.