Tag Archives: what to watch on Netflix

TIFF18: The Kindergarten Teacher

Lisa is having a mid-life crisis. No, Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is having an existential mother fucking emergency. She’s been a kindergarten teacher for 20 years and she’s tired of teaching a curriculum she doesn’t believe in. She feels invisible at home, a mother to grown kids who don’t need her anymore, a wife to a man she doesn’t feel connected to. A continuing education class in poetry only highlights her unrealized potential and stifled creativity.

So Lisa is ripe for a prodigy, and what do you know, she “discovers” one right in her own classroom. Five (and a half) year old and full-time cutie-patootie Jimmy (Parker Sevak) MV5BMTYxODY2NDU5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDE3MTgyNDM@._V1_composes poetry that is beautiful and eloquent beyond his years. Lisa feels an addictive high when she recites it as her own in poetry class, receiving praise by peers and teacher (Gael  Garcia Bernal) alike. But mostly she just becomes obsessed with this kid, believing she’s the only one who can nurture his talent. Her behaviour becomes increasingly troublesome, though even on the mild end of the spectrum (depriving him of naps, luring him into bathrooms, alone, with candy bribes), I was uncomfortable.

Lisa is a complex character. You’re picking up on that, right? She legitimately believes she’s got a Mozart-level genius on her hands, and also that our current culture crushes creativity. And she’s not wrong, definitely not about one of those things, and maybe not about both. But she believes that gives her the right to overstep her bounds in some pretty major, pretty outrageous ways.

Maggie Gylleenhaal deserves every good word you have to say about her performance. It’s melancholy, human, and desperate. There’s something universal about a woman’s unsatisfied needs. But you don’t quite know where or how far Lisa will take this – it’s just slightly unhinged, which keeps you riveted despite the fact that the film sometimes feels like it’s not quite sure what it should be.

Director Sara Colangelo explores the many facets of her protagonist even when motivations are muddled and compromised. There’s almost a dark comedy running through the veins of this movie, throbbing and daring in a way that’s surprising given it takes place in a kindergarten class. You’ll laugh, you’ll wince, you’ll sympathize, you’ll condemn, but you won’t look away, even when it stumbles, even if it can’t commit. The Kindergarten Teacher offers a confident performance and a fascinating character study.

 

 

Catch The Kindergarten Teacher on Netflix October 12.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Guernsey is a tiny island in the English Channel. It was occupied by Germans during WW2, and the people of Guernsey suffered deprivations of course. So it was the Nazis’ fault they had to form a Literary AND Potato Peel Pie Society one night, spur of the moment. For the rest of the war, five friends read books and then met to discuss them, whilst eating awful potato peel pie. With only a limited amount of books, Dawsey (Michiel Huisman) writes to a stranger in London, a name he finds randomly in one of the second-hand books he reads, to ask for the name of a bookstore from which he may order more. Juliet (Lily James), a writer and book lover herself, is quite taken by the request, and she writes back, including several titles for he and the society to enjoy. They MV5BNDE5MjM3MTg4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjQ5MzE5NDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_keep up a correspondence for quite some time, and when the war ends, she heads to Guernsey to meet the characters from the letters in the hopes that she may write to them.

Juliet is welcomed warmly but meets with resistance when she broaches the topic of writing. The society wish to remain anonymous. They’ve suffered more than just deprivation during the war. One of the society is missing, and the rest are secretive, protective.

I loved this book. The movie feels a little less special, not even living up to its quirky title. It’s predictable and conventionally told, but gosh darn is it pretty to look at. It’s a satisfying period romance with a great ensemble cast. It’s too bad the script plays it safe, but it’s still a sweet little movie. It’s not breaking any new ground, and you’ll have to make due with London standing in for Guernsey. But Lily James is her sparkling, charming self, so if the movie is hard to love, it’s easy to like.

 

Recovery Boys

So in my other life, I’m a crisis counselor. Which is different from the type of therapist you see once a week. I come in when someone is thinking urgent thoughts of or is planning or attempting suicide. Sometimes I only talk to clients once, on the worst day of their lives, in order to make sure it’s not their last. Other times they might become a regular, someone I’m in contact with very often, sometimes every day, because every day is a struggle. As you can imagine, I’ve heard and seen everything. EVERYTHING. But that doesn’t mean shit doesn’t get to me. I’ve been the recipient of every graphic disclosure you can think of about 70 billion you can’t even imagine, but something rather innocuous struck me last week: a client told me he’d recently met someone who claimed to have never had an addiction problem in their life. And my client couldn’t believe it. Had never encountered such a person before. Declared he must either be a liar or a rarity. Imagine not knowing a single sober MV5BMTk1NDY0OTE0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjg0MjI0NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_person. In my life, and probably in yours, addictions are the exception and not the rule. But for people who are in different circumstances, life is hard as fuck, and living sober can feel impossible. And that’s not even factoring in genetics. I felt so sad for this client of mine who has never known anything else.

So this is my mindset, I’m either in the best place to watch this documentary, or the worst. It’s about a group of men in a farming-based residential rehab facility.

Jeff is the rehab’s first ever client, and arrives straight from jail. He’s very young but he’s got two kids in foster care, awaiting either him or their mother to get straight and reclaim them. They’re at the forefront of his mind, and visitation makes it clear that he is a loving and doting father. So the fact that he keeps fucking up proves how deeply the addiction monster’s got his claws in him.

Adam receives a loving letter from his grandmother and it unravels him because he can’t reconcile her affection with his behaviour. She works at a goodwill to stave off homelessness because of all he’s stolen from her, but still she loves him. He knows he would never be so forgiving. He’s undone.

As a staff member of the rehab facility points out, these men are facing a “menu of shitty options.” I know that addictions are a disease, one that gets almost zero sympathy, but it’s not unlike heart disease. Sure there’s a lifestyle component, but there’s also genes and compulsion. But no matter how many hamburgers you continue to eat after your first and second heart attacks, society will continue to weep for you around your hospital bed. Not so with drug relapses. Those people we revile for their “weakness” and “bad choices.” If only it were so easy.

This is not an episode of Intervention. No one’s trying to dramatize or glamourize anything, and it doesn’t get wrapped up neatly in the end. It’s clear that director Elaine McMillion Sheldon knows something about addictions, understands that your first trip to rehab is rarely your last. We don’t learn anything about addictions in this film. Instead, we live briefly in their shoes. We see the struggle. We know there is no cure, that recovery is an every day commitment, and we should be really honest with ourselves about how hard that would be for any single one of us. But some of us win the genetic lottery and some of us lose. The least we can do is show a little compassion, which this documentary engenders rather well.

What Happened to Monday

The world is overpopulated and we are consuming resources at an untenable rate – these are facts, not fiction. It’s kind of depressing that in a dystopian, sci-fi future, the architect of our demise is real, but our willingness to do something about it is the fiction.

In this particular 2078, a strict one-child policy has been made law and is brutally enforced. The GMOs in our food has led to unfathomable rates of multiple-births, so every human is braceleted and check-points are set up to monitor for siblings, who are then removed from the population in order to be cryogenically frozen for a time  when the earth may sustain them. But as Willem Dafoe watches his beautiful and beloved daughter die while giving birth to septuplets, he vows to keep the seven sisters secret. Named for each day of the week, they are raised behind closed doors to be smart and MV5BOGE5ZmVjOGUtZmQzOS00OGQyLWEwNDEtNjkyNDRiZTBhNDA1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_self-sufficient. Each one may only venture outside on the day of the week for which they are named – outside their home, they live as “Karen Settman”, a character that all 7 must be equally devoted to keeping sacred.

Of course, when Monday goes missing, the remaining 6 are going to have a heck of a time tracking her down since between them they only have the one avatar allowed to exist in the world. So the script basically forces itself into an anything-goes amalgam where we’re never sure if we’re watching a gritty crime thriller, or a family drama, or a murder mystery, or jagged social commentary. There are a couple of really great set pieces that may get your heart pumping quickly enough to sustain you during the more aimless scenes in between. It’s an uneven movie, overstuffed for sure, but an interesting premise even if its denouement is somewhat predictable.

Noomi Rapace gets to play all seven juicy roles, and she gives each Settman sister a twist of her own. It’s fun to watch her interact with herself, and it’s a trick pulled off rather deftly. But for me, personally, the  most interesting part of this movie is imaging myself and my sisters (there are “only” 4 of us, luckily – the world could not take a single one more) co-existing even nominally peacefully in an apartment for years, sharing one single identity. The four of us are nothing alike and I can’t even imagine what a compromise would begin to look like. One of  us lives and breathes hockey, and one of us cannot physically stand upright on skates. How do you even do that halfway? One of us is covered in tattoos and one of us refers to them as “prison ink” with a judgmental eye roll. Growing up, we couldn’t agree on a single television show to watch. How would we agree on a single hairstyle, job, boyfriend, drink preference? And let’s face it: whoever pulls the Saturday shift will never have to go to work or school, while poor Monday will forever be stuck without a single drop of fun.

Sean watched this movie and had a very different takeaway. He saw only potential: since we are childfree by choice, he thought our right to a child could be sold to the highest bidder, and he envisioned us living comfortably off the proceeds. So in summation: Jay can’t even imagine a fictional world in which she is capable of compromise, Sean is mercenary, and What Happened to Monday is an entertaining but not quite brilliant addition to Netflix’s sci-fi catalogue.

Cargo

If (when) the zombie apocalypse happens, please feel free to refer back to this post, which will justify your bullet in my brain. Thank you in advance for your cooperation. The truth is, I am not a survivalist. I don’t want to live without hot baths, good wine, soft cheese, manicures, memory foam, air conditioning, smooth legs, clean fingernails, diamond earrings. I never want to run because I have to. I don’t even like to camp. Fight for my life? I avoid sales so I don’t have to fight for the last pair of 7.5 patent leather Mary Janes. So if shit hits the fan, I’m checking out. Even if it turns out the zombie outbreak was really just a particularly gross strain of the flu, I promise not to mind. This is a risk I’m willing to take in order to ensure that I never spend a day hungry, or cold, or scared out of my mind, or wearing yesterday’s underwear, or having unminty breath – and yes these things are all EQUALLY repugnant to me.

Cargo is about a man who is not as smart as I am (I could start every single review save The Theory of Everything with that sentence, and I just may). Andy (Martin Freeman) and his wife and baby daughter are surviving by avoiding land altogether and sticking to their house boat. But when his wife gets injured, it’s either probably die from zombies or MV5BMjUwNzYzNzg1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM1MDcyNTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_definitely die from blood loss. And again they choose wrong and head inland, where poor Andy has the unenviable task of keeping his family alive when every single other thing wants them dead.

Cargo is newly arrived on Netflix, where we are promised both a “thrilling” and “emotional” ride and ohmygod yes. I hid under the blanket so much, both to convince my rapidly beating heart to vacate my throat and get back into the cavity from whence it came, and to sob unobserved (the dogs get overly concerned).

This movie wins because it’s not about the zombies. In fact, the zombies aren’t really the villains (and why would they be, any more than lions are villains; they’re simply acting the way they must). Instead we focus on just a handful of people fleeing them. It’s character-driven, and casts some very capable people to show that off, not least of all Martin Freeman who broke my fucking heart. And the film is further improved by the baked Australian landscape, which is all that and a bag of Tim Tams.

I don’t normally have the heart, or the stomach, for a zombie movie, but exceptions must be made for one this good.

Behind The Curtain: Todrick Hall

Dear Todrick Hall,

I’m sorry. As a film reviewer at a festival, we have dozens and usually hundreds of choices to make, and a tight schedule to keep, and we just cannot see them all. This documentary was available to me and I didn’t make time for it because I had no idea that it would blow me away. I’d have to wait to discover that for myself on Netflix. So I’m late to the party, but I brought tequila and nachos. Peace?

You may or may not know Todrick Hall as a Broadway and Youtube star. Having found the roles for gay African-American men to be quite limited, he simply started creating his own. He re-wrote other people’s songs and created short films to accompany them, and gained huge notoriety on Youtube because of it.  But Todrick Hall is no flash in the pan; his talent is of such cosmic, galactic proportions that of course he would burst out of MV5BNDY3YmM4OTUtYjRiMy00ODMyLWI1OTEtM2ZjNmRiNzJiMjEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI4MjIwMjQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_Youtube and make a scene wherever he landed. But one of his absolute greatest accomplishments is a musical that he wrote and produced himself. Biographical, and inspired by The Wizard of Oz, Straight Outta Oz is an all-original production that covers the yellow-brick road he followed from being gay in small-town Texas and the struggles and hurdles that led to fame and acceptance and being fabulously gay anywhere he goes, including but not limited to small-town Texas.

Hall is enormously talented and handsome enough to coast on his looks, but what makes this documentary great is that he’s transparent and genuine. Behind The Curtain means actual access. And director Katherine Fairfax-Wright’s skill is for setting her subject within real social context. This musical was being mounted in a time when young black boys were being gunned down by police, a fellow Youtube star by the name of Christina Grimmie was murdered by a “fan”, and Hall’s old stomping ground, Pulse nightclub, was terrorized, a hate crime that left 49 dead. Both Todrick Hall and this documentary operate within this very real world, but both manage to remain optimistic and inspiring.

I hope one day I’m lucky enough to sit in his audience, but until then we can content ourselves with some of the amazing Youtube content he’s created.

I’m sorry we still live in a world that couldn’t immediately recognize the glittery, amber rays emanating from this shining star, but this kind of light cannot be contained under a bushel for long. Todrick Hall is destined for success because he knows the value of friendship, which is evident by the tight crew he keeps around him and the family that he’s made of his own choosing. And because of his voice, which is strong and knowing. And because he actually has lots to say with it, and the means to write it down, coherent and catchy. And because he wants it. He wants it so bad he’s not going to sit down and wait for it, he’s going to go out there and create it, and god damn do I admire that.

The Rachel Divide

Rachel Dolezal: I bet you know her name. She’s the white woman who passed herself off as black and became the head of her local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. And in fact, she doesn’t just pretend to be black, she claims to really believe that inside, she is. She has called it transracial, perhaps to piggy-back on the recent (and limited) success of the transgendered community to gain acceptance. Transgendered people are born in the wrong body. Their biology may present as one sex but they feel very much like the other, and may even undergo reassignment surgery in the pursuit of having their bodies match their identities. But is transracial the same thing? Is it even a thing?

I definitely had opinions about Rachel Dolezal before I ever watched the MV5BYmMzZGRhMjctYTA4My00YWQ3LWJlZjUtZjZmZjU2NjI3NWMzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc5NTc1MTg@._V1_.jpgdocumentary. It was hard not to have a knee-jerk reaction to this thing that felt wrong, felt maybe even racist, though we couldn’t quite articulate why, other than the fact that it necessarily deals in stereotypes. But on paper, it’s harder not to see her point. And in practice, it’s impossible not to feel compassion for her children who are being punished for the sins of their mother.

Laura Brownson has a fascinating documentary that really challenges your beliefs, and to me that’s the ultimate mark of a good documentary. Why did Dolezal lie? Why does she continue to hold her ground? Why does she cry about her notoriety but chase it with a book deal and now a documentary? Why was she singled out for accolades when so many actually-black women were passed over? Should her contributions to the cause be forgotten or ignored?

Brownson offers no real answers but asks enough intelligent questions that it really gets your brain juices bubbling. She doesn’t let Dolezal off the hook but does treat her like a human being, which makes her the rare exception. And I’m still not certain where my own beliefs stand, but my thoughts are a little more evolved, and a little reflection never hurt anyone.