The Human Voice
Spanish director Almodóvar’s English-language debut is a short film that strips the hallmarks of his oeuvre down to a few core elements: a high-strung woman engages in high drama while clad in high fashion. Based on Jean Cocteau’s monodrama of the same name, The Human Voice is essentially a 30-minute showpiece for Tilda Swinton, who stars as a jilted woman confronting her ex in a lengthy phone call as her oblivious dog unhelpfully reflects back her anxiety. Cocteau’s play served as the inspiration for Almodóvar’s 1988 international hit Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown so not unlike 2019’s Pain And Glory, this project finds the director self-consciously revisiting the late '80s/early '90s period that defined his success.
Swinton’s impeccably decorated luxury apartment is a fourth-wall busting set that the director sometimes films from above studio rafters, a technique that reminds us we are watching a Tilda Swinton performance. For two-thirds of the movie, she delivers a raging monologue that feels almost like endurance acting. The dog, the suffocating decor, even an axe—everything around her seems so vividly useless compared with her forceful voice. The result is an enjoyably indulgent aesthetic delight that’s about appreciating the individual parts that typically form Almodóvar’s melodramatic whole. 30 min. Now streaming on Crave. (Kevin Ritchie)
The Girlfriend Experience (Season 3)
The Starz anthology series takes its core concept from Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 movie about a sex worker acutely aware of the transactional nature of all relationships, professional or otherwise. The first two seasons were helmed by Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan; this year, writer-director Anja Marquardt (She’s Lost Control) takes over for a story set in London, where American neuroscience student Iris (Julia Goldani Telles) joins a tech startup developing artificial intelligence, and winds up using her night job as an escort to teach the AI about human nature.
Marquardt is swimming in fairly familiar waters here, jazzing up stilted conversations with cryptic virtual-reality chats, off-kilter cinematography, and a moody musical score. But from the evidence of the first five episodes, it doesn’t really feel like the show has anything to say about the intersection of tech and desire. Goldani Telles (Bunheads, The Affair) is strangely flat as both Iris and her sexytime alter ego Cassie, moving through scenes like a blunt object (and, at several points, adopting a truly horrible English accent). Maybe the second half is building to a rug pull where it turns out we’re watching someone play a bad video game. New episodes every Sunday on Crave with a Starz subscription. (Norman Wilner)
Scott Abramovitch, who wrote the curious Susan Sarandon thriller The Calling a few years ago, makes his directorial debut with this equally curious picture about socially awkward Sid Straw (Tony Hale), whose OCD leads him to pester the actor and filmmaker Elizabeth Banks on Facebook because they went to college together—resulting in a restraining order that derails his entire life.
It’s…sort of a comedy, with Sid pushing haplessly onward through a series of crossed signals and clumsy social encounters as Banks’s people justifiably interpret him as a stalker. (Abramovitch’s script updates Michael Kun’s 2003 novel The Locklear Letters for the era of social media.) But Eat Wheaties! refuses to frame Sid as a buffoon; Hale’s performance is driven by a burning indignation. You can see why his friends are sympathetic; you can also see why strangers might think he’s dangerous.
Ultimately, the movie is as odd as its hero, with a supporting cast filled with gifted comic players like Sarah Burns, Sarah Chalke, Elisha Cuthbert, Sarah Goldberg, Paul Walter Hauser, Lamorne Morris, Alan Tudyk, and David Walton. And please make sure to watch it all the way to the end. 88 min. Available on digital and on demand. (NW)
The Outside Story
Nozkowski’s indie comedy stars Brian Tyree Henry as Charles, an introverted video editor who spends an afternoon locked out of his Brooklyn apartment and forced to interact with his neighbours. That sounds like a pitch for a frantic comedy, but The Outside Story proves gentler and more thoughtful, weaving flashbacks of Charles’s newly ended relationship with Isha (Star Trek: Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green) through the story to show us what’s really bothering our hero.
The supporting cast gradually expands to include GLOW’s Sunita Mani, Better Things’ Olivia Edward and Spotlight’s Michael Cyril Creighton, but Henry—an invaluable ensemble player in everything from Atlanta and Widows to Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and Godzilla Vs. Kong—is quietly great in his first leading role, and Nozkowski keeps the tone pleasantly busy rather than panicked. There’s one scene that threatens to break the movie’s genial spell, but I’m pretty sure that’s by design. 85 min. Available now on digital and on demand. (NW)
The tension between art and commerce is a common theme in movies, but Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple manages to exalt a sublime art form without putting its artists on a pedestal. Sharad (Aditya Modak) is a devoted 24-year-old student of Hindustani classical music, studying under and caring for the elderly Guruji (Arun Dravid). By day he works for a producer reissuing obscure recordings, and at night he calmly rides his motorbike through the streets of Mumbai while listening to the teachings of Maai (Sumitra Bhave), an iconic musician disdainful of performing live and recording for profit. Sharad’s family history and life are steeped in music, and yet he struggles to find the kind of balance between meditative improvisation and pitch-perfect delivery his art form requires.
The Disciple’s story unfolds through a series of beautifully composed, quietly scathing scenes that school viewers on the particulars of Northern Indian classical music. We watch as Sharad’s insistence on artistic purity slips into self-absorption as he is confronted with a series of rude awakenings, refusing to acknowledge that a level of financial success is a material necessity. There are times when Tamhane overplays the central dramatic tension—it becomes obvious where the story is headed—but the director’s understated approach allows the performance scenes to advance the story on a philosophical and emotional level that makes this movie ever more absorbing as it progresses. 128 mins. Now streaming on Netflix Canada. (KR)
(Steven S. DeKnight, Sang Kyu Kim)
If Invincible didn’t give you enough parent-child superhero material, Netflix’s adaptation of the 2013 comic created by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely is here to double down on conversations about the whole great power, great responsibility thing. Set in a world where superheroes arrived during the Great Depression but refused to interfere in global conflicts, the show explores the clash between old-school heroes and the younger, more morally ambivalent generation that follows them, some of whom are their literal kids.
The kids are played by Andrew Horton, Elena Kampouris and Ian Quinlan, among others, and they’re the most interesting aspect of the show, especially when pitted against their inflexible elders, like Josh Duhamel’s single-minded Utopian and Leslie Bibb’s Lady Liberty. But Jupiter’s Legacy is too beholden to the original comics, constantly abandoning the present to flash back to 1929, where the story of how the original heroes earned their incredible powers plays out at a snail’s pace, introducing conflicts that won’t even begin to pay off until the second season. If we’re lucky. All eight episodes available to stream on Netflix Canada on Friday (May 7). (NW)
The Boy From Medellín
The Boy From Medellín is about what it’s like to be a global pop superstar while the globe in on fire. The film follows Colombian reggaeton singer J Balvin as he prepares to play a major concert in a hometown stadium in November 2019. The twist? The country is in the throes of massive street protests against right-wing president Iván Duque, and fans and fellow artists are pressuring the reluctant Balvin to speak out in favour of economic and social reforms.
Director Matthew Heineman is best known for slickly shot war and drug cartel documentaries, but here his aesthetic primarily reinforces Balvin’s pampered alienation with arresting aerial views of Medellín and an emphasis on moody natural lighting. If it didn’t seem like Balvin was genuinely unable to articulate any sort of political view, The Boy From Medellín would be totally insufferable: rich pop star just wants everyone to leave him alone. It feels like an honest portrait, but it’s hardly satisfying.
The movie broadly covers major themes of the modern pop star condition—personal versus political, alter egos and the marketability of vulnerability and mental health—while side-stepping glaring class dynamics. Balvin points out he worked hard for the money, but we don’t get a strong sense of where he came from, what shaped his worldview or what it took for him to become so successful. It’s a beautiful-looking film that captures the intensity of a particular moment, but it ultimately boils a collective uprising down to a personal existential crisis that is not particularly revealing. 95 min. Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video Canada on Friday (May 7). (KR)
Available on VOD
A Bump Along The Way
Tony Hale, Alan Tudyk, Sarah Chalke; directed by Scott Abramovitch
Gary Green, Bianka Hartenstein, Sean Cameron Michael; directed by Ryan Kruger
Andrew Garfield, Maya Hawke, Nat Wolff; directed by Gia Coppola
The Outside Story
The Paper Tigers
Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins; directed by Bao Quoc Tran
Son Of The South
Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street
Tu Me Manques
DOXA Documentary Film Festival 2021
Hot Docs wraps up on Sunday, but the Vancouver-based documentary festival is just getting underway—and available to stream across the country. So if you missed a buzzy title like The Gig Is Up, Someone Like Me or Summer Of Soul, you’ve got another week to catch up to it…and if you have, there’s a wealth of other films to check out. I recommend Sisters With Transistors, Lisa Rovner’s tribute to the women who made electronic music in the 20th century, and pushed the form forward for everyone.
Through May 16 at doxafestival.ca.
Disc of the week
Donnie Darko (Arrow, 4K)
It’s been almost exactly 20 years since Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko forced its way into our reality…and as befits a cult object, its DVD and Blu-ray releases seem innumerable. But if you’ve been meaning to pick up the two-disc special edition Arrow released back in 2016, you now have an even better reason: the remastered 4K transfers around which that package was built are now available to watch in proper 4K.
Arrow’s two-disc release offers the theatrical cut on one platter and writer-director Richard Kelly’s extended cut on a second, both in 2160p—along with all the supplemental materials collected on Arrow’s earlier BD, including the feature-length documentary Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy Of Donnie Darko. Packaged with a poster, postcards, and a hardcover book of essays and interviews, it’s as definitive as these things get…even if the extended cut is more trouble than it’s worth: Kelly’s insidious, mesmeric infusion of a John Hughes teen movie with the creeping tension Stephen King suburban nightmare is so much more effective—and affecting—when it puts us in the same mental space as Jake Gyllenhaal’s confused, desperate antihero.
The added definition also plays up the subtle contrast between the sweaty, disheveled Donnie and the glossy world in which he lives, which is something I’d never noticed before. It’s nice to be surprised by a movie you’ve been watching for decades. (NW)