Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor

Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Since then, the long-time Winnipegger has covered books, pop culture and food for the Free Press. (Since picking up the Recipe Swap gig, her pastry has hugely improved.)

She has also written for The Walrus, Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, Border Crossings, The Winnipeg Review and the CBC’s arts and entertainment website. As well, Alison has made a fortunate return to her first love, art history, as a contract lecturer at her alma mater, the U of W.

Alison’s favourite beat is the movies, which she has covered, on and off, for over 20 years. She still feels that prickle at the back of her neck every time the theatre lights go down.

Recent articles of Alison Gillmor

Luxe locale, searing sexual satire

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Luxe locale, searing sexual satire

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022

As income inequality rises to grotesque heights, we in the non-one-per-cent console ourselves with eat-the-rich movies like the recent Triangle of Sadness and The Menu. And now, back with its comforting conclusion that the ultra-wealthy are materially pampered but emotionally wretched, we have the second season of The White Lotus (currently on Crave, with new episodes dropping Sundays).

Show creator Mike White once more casts his caustic eye on luxe travel, setting up very deliberate parallels to the show’s debut season. We are at another White Lotus resort, this time in Sicily. Again, we see the guests making a glamorous approach by water and the staff waiting with pasted-on smiles.

And amid all the prosecco and plunge pools and 1,800-thread count linens, we get another brief introductory flashforward suggesting this vacation — like the one in Season 1 — will end in someone’s death, we just don’t know whose.

Wealth was the distorting force in the first series, and while money continues to mess around with the characters’ ethical and emotional behaviour, White is now much more interested in sex. As the nearby Mount Etna rumbles with volcanic activity, threatening to release its destructive power, sex underlines almost every uneasy human encounter in Season 2.

Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022

Show creator Mike White once more casts his caustic eye on luxe travel. (Chris Pizzello / Associated Press files)

Spielberg delivers his own origin story in personal film

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Spielberg delivers his own origin story in personal film

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Friday, Nov. 25, 2022

Steven Spielberg is sometimes criticized for being too sentimental, too sappy. But as this “portrait of the filmmaker as a young man” suggests, his need for feel-good endings is rooted not in optimism but anxiety.

Spielberg’s filmography is full of distant fathers and abandoned children. In genres ranging from fairy tales to crime capers to adventure stories to sci-fi, he has been playing out his parents’ difficult marriage and traumatic divorce, which occurred when he was in his teens.

In this tender but surprisingly tough film, we finally see Spielberg’s family directly, through the eyes of Spielberg’s stand-in character, the young Sammy Fabelman (played as a child by Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord and as an adolescent by Gabriel LaBelle).

This is not a biopic, though. As the title hints, it’s a family fable.

Friday, Nov. 25, 2022

Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Sammy Fabelman (Mateo Zoryan Francis-DeFord) is inspired to make films in part to give him control over his anxiety.

Narrator’s notebooks probe problematic psychiatrist in Booker-longlisted novel

Reviewed by Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Narrator’s notebooks probe problematic psychiatrist in Booker-longlisted novel

Reviewed by Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Friday, Nov. 25, 2022

Ironical, intelligent and intriguing from first page to last, the fourth novel from Glasgow-based Graeme Macrae Burnet (His Bloody Project) questions the tricky nature of identity.

Set in London in the mid-1960s, the story follows a young woman who believes an unconventional anti-establishment psychiatrist has brought about her sister’s death. To investigate his methods, she takes on a made-up identity and becomes his patient.

Longlisted for the Booker Prize, Case Study starts with a framing device found in both Victorian ghost stories and postmodern romps. In a brief introduction, someone identified as GMB (the author’s own initials, you’ll note) claims to have received five notebooks from a mysterious correspondent relating to the misdeeds of A. Collins Braithwaite, an “enfant terrible of the so-called anti-psychiatry movement of the 1960s.”

Though GMB admits he “cannot attest to the truth of their contents,” he reproduces these notebooks, with occasional editorial notes, alternating with his own research into Braithwaite’s biography and excerpts from Braithwaite’s own writings.

Friday, Nov. 25, 2022

Euan Anderson photo

Scottish author Graeme Macrae Burnet is clearly having some stylistic fun with his wildly unreliable narrator.

Food for thought

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Food for thought

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022

Slow, serious and intense, The Wonder is set in Ireland in 1862, but it begins with an unnecessary framing device: We are shown a cluttered soundstage and told we are about to see a film about “people who believe in their stories with complete devotion.”

Emphasizing artifice is an odd angle to take when your star is the extraordinary Florence Pugh (Midsommar, Little Women and the recent Don’t Worry Darling), who grounds anything she does in the urgent here and now.

As with her 2016 breakout role in Lady Macbeth, she brings unforced emotional authenticity to this historical drama, making it feel immediate and original.

Pugh plays Lib Wright, a tough-minded English nurse and veteran of the Crimean War brought to a small village in Ireland where she is tasked with keeping watch over Anna (Kila Lord Cassidy), an 11-year-old girl who has apparently survived without eating for four months.

Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022

Element Pictures

Florence Pugh, left, and Kila Lord Cassidy play nurse and patient in The Wonder.

From majestic drama to anemic royal soap

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Preview

From majestic drama to anemic royal soap

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022

As it enters its fifth season, the shine seems to be off The Crown. The Netflix series, which debuted as a gleaming prestige drama, is now reduced to a royal soaper.

Perhaps the real-world deaths of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are casting a shadow over this dramatized version of their lives, making questions about the series’ uneasy line between fact and fiction more fraught.

There are also tricky issues as the show becomes less of an immaculately produced period piece and more of a current affairs program, with storylines starting to bump up against the tabloid headlines of our own time. (What to do with the problematic Prince Andrew, for example? He’s mostly been sidelined as a character but still has to show up for the occasional talk with “Mummy.”)

At times, The Crown leads off with displays of historical veracity that older viewers will immediately recognize. Take its depiction of Tampongate, for example, when an intimate phone conversation between Charles (Dominic West) and Camilla (Olivia Williams) is picked up by an amateur radio scanner and later published in the Daily Mirror. Anyone who lived through that scandal will probably have the dialogue branded on their brains — “A little gynecological for my taste,” Princess Anne remarks dryly — and here it’s reproduced word for word.

Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022

Elizabeth Debicki as Diana, Princess of Wales, Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II and Dominic West as Prince Charles in season 5 of The Crown. (Netflix photo)

Darkly funny film is one part buddy picture, one part war allegory and all brilliant

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Darkly funny film is one part buddy picture, one part war allegory and all brilliant

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022

This startlingly original comic drama begins with a rainbow arching over emerald-green hills, as if daring you to think about quaint Irish clichés.

But no, playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh may be setting his story in a small island village off the Irish coast in 1923, but the skies will soon close in as two lifelong friends have an abrupt falling out, seemingly over nothing, with horrifying, darkly hilarious results.

For years now, Padráic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) have been walking every day to the village pub for a mid-afternoon pint, until Colm tells Padráic, “I just don’t like you no more.”

He has decided Padráic is sweet but dull, and he has no more time in his life for aimless chat. Padráic is unable to accept this sudden silence, even after Colm, a gifted composer and fiddle player, threatens to cut off one of his own fingers with a pair of shears every time Padráic bothers him.

Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022

Jonathan Hession / Searchlight Pictures

Brendan Gleeson, left, and Colin Farrell play friends who have a falling out in The Banshees of Inisherin.

Sometimes dull, often ordinary but important true-crime film

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Preview

Sometimes dull, often ordinary but important true-crime film

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022

The serial killer genre can be ethically iffy. In many onscreen depictions of serial killers, the victims remain nothing more than brutalized bodies, their deaths serving as the pretext for a showdown between a murderer — often portrayed as some kind of genius artiste — and an intense, obsessive detective.

The true-crime variant, while more grounded in facts, can also play up the sadistic sensationalism, justifying the gore with claims of necessary insight into the criminal mind.

In recent years, however, the genre has been undergoing an identity crisis, with attempts to move the narrative away from the supposedly “fascinating” killers to foreground the experience of victims and survivors.

Shows like the HBO documentary series I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (2020) centres on the ways the after-effects of violence reverberate through communities, families and individual lives. The Investigation, a 2020 Danish crime drama based on real events, looks into the murder of journalist Kim Wall while stringently refusing to give any screen time to the murderer. In fact, the show doesn’t even call him by name, identifying him only as “the accused.”

Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022

Eddie Redmayne (left) as Charlie Cullen and Jessica Chastain as Amy Loughren in The Good Nurse. (JoJo Whilden / Netflix / TNS)

Fright flicks tap into anxieties of our times

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Fright flicks tap into anxieties of our times

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022

Here’s the thing about horror movies. Most of us aren’t really frightened of, say, vampires — at least not in the sense that we worry about running into them in our everyday lives.

We’re scared of what vampires might represent, which can vary with the anxieties of their time. Over the last century, those undead bloodsuckers have stood in for a host of social fears: of outsiders, disease, contagion, addiction, technology, even boredom.

So, what are we scared of in 2022? These are fraught times, and it’s not surprising that this year’s horror flicks have been packed with extreme violence, mutilation, monsters and supernatural threat. Still, many of them start off with the things that really get to us — like too-perfect social media influencers and Airbnb reservations gone terribly wrong.

SOCIAL MEDIA: This year, we seem to be beset by internet anxieties, a subgenre that often overlaps with another perennial horror trigger — “the youth of today.” In We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun follows a girl who gets caught up in “The World’s Fair Challenge,” an online horror game where participants perform a series of challenges and share the results. The real terrors here, though, are loneliness, alienation and what a vulnerable youngster will do to feel part of an online community.

Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022

O’Farrell’s sensually vivid Renaissance fiction falters in emotional intensity

Reviewed by Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

O’Farrell’s sensually vivid Renaissance fiction falters in emotional intensity

Reviewed by Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022

Historical fiction may examine the past, but it’s always shaped by the perspectives of the present. In this rich but sometimes overly obvious imagining of the life of Lucrezia de’ Medici, U.K. writer Maggie O’Farrell takes us into the dangerous intrigues of an Italian court during the late Renaissance.

Filtering her subject through a contemporary lens of gender dynamics, O’Farrell follows the 16-year-old Lucrezia as she struggles to survive a difficult dynastic marriage to Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara, a man who can be cultivated and charming, as well as capricious and cruel. The Marriage Portrait offers detailed scene-setting and some gorgeous description, but the writing too often sinks into overworked metaphors that clang with contemporary intent. O’Farrell doesn’t have the knack of fellow historical fiction writer Hilary Mantel for hiding the seams between past and present.

The Marriage Portrait, like O’Farrell’s bestselling, award-winning 2020 novel Hamnet, deals with a real-life 16th-century woman whose voice has been silenced by history. Hamnet centred on Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes, and her grief at the death of their son during the plague.

Here the central character is the seemingly doomed Lucrezia, the fifth child of Cosimo de’ Medici and Eleanor of Toledo who, as part of a complex set of financial negotiations and political alliances — “the machinery of betrothal,” as she calls it — is chosen at age 13 to marry the Duke of Ferrera, and leaves for the Ferrarese court as she turns 15.

Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022

Murdo Macleod photo

In her latest, Maggie O’Farrell radically recentres the story of Lucrezia de’ Medici.

Triangle’s social satire isn’t as pointed as it should be

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Triangle’s social satire isn’t as pointed as it should be

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Friday, Oct. 21, 2022

This eat-the-rich satire from Ruben Östlund pushes the notion that ultra-wealthy people are both awful and unhappy. That tends to be an audience-friendly gambit, at least with the non-superyacht-crowd.

Still, the Swedish provocateur is not one to let his viewers off lightly. While his anti-capitalist stance takes on some easy targets, it remains a deliberately difficult watch. As he did in Force Majeure, a sharp critique of gender and family roles, and The Square, a vicious takedown of the contemporary art world, Östlund keeps everything uncomfortable and off balance, turning almost every human interaction into tension-filled weirdness.

Unfortunately, Triangle (which is predominantly in English) isn’t as fully realized as those previous films, its satire scathing but scattershot, its storyline stretched out but underdeveloped. And damningly for a film that’s wants to be setting off bombs in the current class war, Triangle is not quite as dangerous as it seems.

Östlund presents a three-part narrative composed of abrupt, absurdist, off-kilter scenes alternating with some extended tableaux, including the sequence that’s been notorious since the film won the Palme d’or at Cannes — a comically gross wallow in projectile vomiting and overflowing toilets.

Friday, Oct. 21, 2022

Neon

Arvin Kananian, left, and Woody Harrelson in Triangle of Sadness, partially set on a luxury yacht.

Murder, she wrote, but movies, she slayed

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Murder, she wrote, but movies, she slayed

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022

Angela Lansbury, the English-born performer whose career spanned eight decades, died this week at age 96.

For many people, she is best known as Jessica Fletcher, the star character in the TV show Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996). Playing a mystery writer-turned-sleuth who lives in the fictional Maine town of Cabot Cove — a picturesque little community with an alarmingly high murder rate — Lansbury was 58 when she started the series and into her 70s by the end of its long run.

There is an unfortunate societal tendency to look at older women and assume they’ve always been older women. And Lansbury so perfected Jessica Fletcher’s style, a mix of smartly accessorized but comfortable separates and sensible, mid-heeled shoes, that viewers might think she always looked this way.

It’s important and illuminating, then, to go back to Lansbury’s early career.

Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022

THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Invision - Casey Curryz

Angela Lansbury poses for a portrait during press day for “Blithe Spirit” at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Dec.16, 2014. It’s an ever-growing trend in the theatre world: Casting a big celebrity in a stage production. For audiences, it means excitement, and for producers it often leads to a boost in ticket sales.

Messy Halloween sequel is all dressed up with no place to go

Alison Gillmor 3 minute read Preview

Messy Halloween sequel is all dressed up with no place to go

Alison Gillmor 3 minute read Friday, Oct. 14, 2022

A two-and-half-star rating can seem like a “meh” response, but this is more of a split-the-difference score, for a horror flick that has stretches of baffling badness but also fits of weird brilliance. As Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) moves toward a last reckoning with the seemingly unkillable Michael Myers, the final entry in David Gordon Green’s legacy sequel trilogy never falls into easy cliché.

Unfortunately, it’s a maddening, bewildering, bloody mess.

Director Green, who co-scripts with Danny McBride, has a clear message: Evil doesn’t die, it just changes shape.

The shape we see in the very fraught year of 2022 feeds on the fact that fear, shame and rage are contagious. Violence doesn’t stop at the end of Michael Myers’ butcher knife. Its knock-on effects have seeped into the community of Haddonfield for four decades, spreading trauma and guilt, giving rise to victim-blaming, conspiracy theories and an irrational mob mentality.

Friday, Oct. 14, 2022

The seemingly unkillable Michael Myers is back in the 13th iteration of the Halloween franchise. (Universal Pictures)

Vampire series is all too much but so, so delicious

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Vampire series is all too much but so, so delicious

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022

Interview with the Vampire, a seven-episode series currently running on AMC, has what every vampire show needs. It has too much.

Too much blood, too much sex, too much violence, too much decadence, too much terrific bone structure, too much absinthe and cognac, too many Art Nouveau fainting couches and Persian carpets, too many silk cravats and rakish hats. In this handsomely designed and executed production, everything is dripping with excess.

That’s what vampires — and the vampire genre — crave. Maybe zombie movies can do that modern minimalist thing. Maybe ghost stories can get stripped down. But vampires require overkill.

Adapting the 1976 novel by Anne Rice, showrunner Rolin Jones (who’s worked on Boardwalk Empire, Friday Night Lights, The Exorcist and Perry Mason) takes the queer subtext of Rice’s book and turns it into glorious, sexy text.

Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022

Interview with the Vampire, a seven-episode series currently running on AMC, has what every vampire show needs. It has too much.

Too much blood, too much sex, too much violence, too much decadence, too much terrific bone structure, too much absinthe and cognac, too many Art Nouveau fainting couches and Persian carpets, too many silk cravats and rakish hats. In this handsomely designed and executed production, everything is dripping with excess.

That’s what vampires — and the vampire genre — crave. Maybe zombie movies can do that modern minimalist thing. Maybe ghost stories can get stripped down. But vampires require overkill.

Adapting the 1976 novel by Anne Rice, showrunner Rolin Jones (who’s worked on Boardwalk Empire, Friday Night Lights, The Exorcist and Perry Mason) takes the queer subtext of Rice’s book and turns it into glorious, sexy text.

Deeply melancholy novel explores director Billy Wilder’s later years with moments of beauty, hope

Reviewed by Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Deeply melancholy novel explores director Billy Wilder’s later years with moments of beauty, hope

Reviewed by Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022

In this moving, autumnal novel, English writer Jonathan Coe imagines the later years of Billy Wilder, the Austrian-raised director behind such American classics as Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment.

The account of the aging filmmaker comes through the first-person recollections of Calista, a composer of movie music living in London. As a young woman, she worked on the set of Fedora, Wilder’s penultimate project, which came decades after his greatest success.

The film — about a down-on-his-luck producer struggling to get a movie made — is an odd homage to Old Hollywood. On its release in 1978, it was a critical and commercial flop, though some critics have since embraced its strange power.

Calista doesn’t even know who Billy Wilder is when she meets him by accident in Los Angeles in 1976. A year later, she ends up working as Wilder’s interpreter as he starts shooting Fedora in Greece.

Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022

Mr. Wilder and Me

All the star power in the world can’t save messy, manic murder-mystery

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

All the star power in the world can’t save messy, manic murder-mystery

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Friday, Oct. 7, 2022

Director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) likes to walk that tightrope line between comedy and drama. In this period romp, which is by turns manic, madcap, super-stylized and completely sincere, he falls right off.

That’s a shame. Amsterdam opens with the coy statement, “A lot of this really happened,” and the film’s inciting incident — a bit of homegrown 1930s American fascism — is intriguing, important and (depressingly) topical.

Russell, who penned the script, is committed to his message — a warning about power, money, hatred and political division — but that earnest purpose ends up getting lost amid a convoluted story structure and a tone of forced, frantic wackiness.

Amsterdam is a lot of things — knockabout farce, tender romance, murder-mystery, musical — but it’s essentially a buddy pic about three people who meet during the First World War: Dr. Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale), Harold Woodman (John David Washington), who will later become a lawyer, and the mysterious Valerie (Margot Robbie), an army nurse we first encounter under her “travelling name.”

Friday, Oct. 7, 2022

Merie Weismiller Wallace/20th Century Studios

Amsterdam’s cast is stuffed with stars, including (from left) Michael Shannon, Mike Myers, Christian Bale, Chris Rock and Robert De Niro.

Illuminated by sun, spirit and knowledge

Alison Gillmor 7 minute read Preview

Illuminated by sun, spirit and knowledge

Alison Gillmor 7 minute read Monday, Oct. 3, 2022

During its design process, the newest building on the downtown campus of Red River College Polytechnic was called the Innovation Centre. In November 2021, on the day it officially opened, Paul Guimond and Una Swan, two of the Polytechnic’s Indigenous Elders-in-residence, gifted the structure with the Anishinaabemowin name Manitou a bi Bii daziigae, which translates to “where the Creator sits, brings light.”

This evocative phrase seems to reference not just the metaphorical light of knowledge and hope but the actual physical light that streams into the building, illuminating open spaces that encourage collaboration and connection.

Light also helps power the building, with solar panels on the roof and photovoltaic cladding on the sides of the structure pulling in energy.

Designed by Winnipeg’s Number TEN Architectural Group in partnership with Toronto’s Diamond Schmitt, Manitou a bi Bii daziigae, which won a Prairie Design Award last week, has been built to embody RRC Polytech’s values. The design emphasizes technology and sustainability. It creates spaces that are adaptable, flexible and responsive to student needs.

Monday, Oct. 3, 2022

doublespace photography

Solar cladding generates energy for the Red River Polytech campus.

Death by birth, with blood, guts and all

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Preview

Death by birth, with blood, guts and all

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022

I was reading Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms for high school English when an older woman I knew told me she had been traumatized by the ending, in which the protagonist, Frederic, watches and waits as his lover, Catherine, dies in childbirth.

The passage is grim but not graphic. Frederic is mostly kept away from the rooms where Catherine labours, languishes and then dies. Gory detail was not the problem. The issue was that at the time my friend encountered this book, childbirth was so seldom represented in art and lit, so seldom discussed, even, that this rare worst-case scenario – mother and baby both dead — remained her sole impression of an incredibly common real-life process.

House of the Dragon’s recent depictions of childbirth, which turn royal bedchambers into body-strewn war zones, suggest that much has changed – and a lot has stayed the same — since Hem took on the topic in 1929. Having kicked off the series with a fatal caesarean — a violent, visceral jolt of strange camera angles, sharpened blades, screaming and blood — the HBO show has since doubled down on its harrowing approach. “Childbirth is violence,” as one showrunner puts it.

Two more scenes in last week’s outing (spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon up to Episode 6) have led to renewed online discussion about whether the show’s gruesome approach to birthing babies represents grisly historical reality, an urgent contemporary statement or just a tired-out pop-culture cliche.

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022

Sian Brooke in ‘House of the Dragon.’ (Ollie Upton/HBO/TNS)

Menace lurking in thriller’s beautiful suburbs undermined by structural flaws

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

Menace lurking in thriller’s beautiful suburbs undermined by structural flaws

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Sep. 24, 2022

An entertaining but disappointing dystopian feminist fable about men, women and power, this second film by actor-director Olivia Wilde looks swell.

The minty mid-century decor, the candy-coloured cars, the fabulous frocks, the swanky supper clubs, the sweeps of desert landscape — they all make a big, beautifully choreographed visual splash.

Underneath all this gorgeousness, of course, lurks something sinister, which is made apparent within the first three minutes of the film. This too-early tip-off hints at structural issues in the script, from Katie Silberman, who collaborated with Wilde on Booksmart, along with Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke.

Their ambitious unpacking of this seductive, deceptive suburban paradise never really clicks, but Don’t Worry Darling still gets a lot of momentum from Wilde’s dynamic direction, some committed performances and some intriguing — though ultimately underdeveloped — ideas.

Saturday, Sep. 24, 2022

Warner Bros. Entertainment

Pugh, left, and Harry Styles play a married couple in the plagued-by-controversy Don’t Worry Darling.

M*A*S*H an early and influential example of the dramedy

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

M*A*S*H an early and influential example of the dramedy

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Friday, Sep. 23, 2022

M*A*S*H, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, was a network sitcom that churned out 24 half-hour episodes a season from 1972 to 1983. At the time, prestige TV wasn’t even a glimmer in some HBO exec’s eye, and still this series, about the madcap members of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean war, had an unexpected influence on the contemporary television landscape.

Before Tony Soprano revealed himself in haunted dreams in The Sopranos, we had M*A*S*H’s doctors and nurses on a 33-hour shift dropping off to uneasy sleep and into surreal dream sequences.

Before Game of Thrones abruptly axed Ned Stark, M*A*S*H killed off a favourite character with shocking suddenness in the landmark episode Abyssinia, Henry.

Before the workplace shenanigans of Brooklyn Nine Nine, M*A*S*H characters were fighting the fear and boredom of war with elaborate stunts and practical jokes.

Friday, Sep. 23, 2022

From left: Loretta Swit, Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Larry Linville, and Gary Burghoff in in 'M.A.S.H.' (Handout / The Canadian Press files)

As real world boils over, Handmaid’s Tale loses dystopian bite

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Preview

As real world boils over, Handmaid’s Tale loses dystopian bite

Alison Gillmor 4 minute read Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022

Abortion rights in the United States are under attack. Reactionary American politicians are challenging the separation of church and state.

And somehow The Handmaid’s Tale, the prestige series about a theocratic regime that forces women into reproductive servitude, is less relevant than ever.

The show’s fifth season gets underway next week (with new episodes dropping Wednesdays on both Crave and Prime Video), but the struggles of June (Elisabeth Moss) and her compatriots against the fundamentalist fascism of Gilead feel increasingly outstripped by the urgency of real-life events. Actual women are protesting anti-abortion laws by dressing in the red cloaks and white bonnets worn by the show’s handmaids. On screen, though, these handmaids don’t have much new to say.

The series moved past Margaret Atwood’s source material at the conclusion of its strong first season, but it has rarely capitalized on that expansion. The ideas haven’t gotten bigger or more complex. Instead, they’ve become repetitive. As June herself announces in Season 5: “We’re right back where we started.”

Saturday, Sep. 10, 2022

Elisabeth Moss in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ (George Kraychyk / Hulu)

Cruz a deadpan delight in riotous movie-making send-up

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Preview

Cruz a deadpan delight in riotous movie-making send-up

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Friday, Sep. 9, 2022

Movies about movies can be unbearably smug, but this sly Spanish satire manages to be self-aware but not self-indulgent, sharp but not nasty. Argentine directors Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn also pull off a surprisingly breezy film of ideas. Official Competition (in Spanish, with subtitles) features lots of talk about creativity and commerce, art and life, but with its offhand absurdities and low-key critiques of pretension and vanity, it’s also laugh-out-loud funny.

Pharmaceutical billionaire Humberto Suarez (Jóse Luis Gómez) is turning 80. Assessing his legacy, he decides he possesses “an obscene fortune but no prestige.” And what says prestige like art? As a would-be 21st-century art patron, he decides to finance a work of cinema. Humberto hires eccentric auteur Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz), known for sparse and strange films that do well at Cannes, and — in a callback to Cohn and Duprat’s 2016 film The Distinguished Citizen — he buys the rights to a book by a Nobel Prize-winning writer.

The novel, titled Rivalry, centres on two brothers who are ferociously competitive but also intensely connected. To play these characters, Lola deliberately picks two men who will drive each other crazy.

Iván Torres (Oscar Martinez) is known for his commitment to experimental theatre and the occasional arthouse film, as well as his austere ethical life. He refuses to travel first-class on principle; on the other hand, he really, really likes to tell people this.

Friday, Sep. 9, 2022

Madman

Antonio Banderas (left), Penélope Cruz and Oscar Martinez inhabit their characters brilliantly in the Spanish-language comedy Official Competition.

Sinister sisterly scheming sticks tricky tonal vibe

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Preview

Sinister sisterly scheming sticks tricky tonal vibe

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Saturday, Sep. 3, 2022

A wickedly funny and unexpectedly warm crime thriller (on Apple TV+, with new episodes dropping Tuesdays), Bad Sisters centres on a close-knit group of Irish siblings, the irrepressible Garvey girls, who decide they need to do something about John Paul (Claes Bang), the odious, abusive husband of their sister Grace (Anne Marie Duff).

In the first episode, we know John Paul is dead. (“He’s Satan’s problem now,” comments a not very mournful mourner.) Dogged insurance investigator Thomas Claffin (Brian Gleeson), with the reluctant help of his half-brother Matt (Daryl McCormack), is looking into the murky facts surrounding John Paul’s demise, hoping to avoid a payout that could sink the family business. “Strange way to meet your end” is as much information as we get about the death.

Through a series of flashbacks starting months before, we also know that the sisters have gone from joking about killing John Paul, to joking-not-joking about killing him, and then to outright planning. But we don’t quite know what happened, and it will be 10 episodes before these two plots converge and we get the big reveal.

With its twinned timelines and mysterious death, its exploration of female solidarity and patriarchal control, its coastal views and really large glasses of wine, this might sound like an Irish reprise of Big Little Lies. But it’s not just the Dublin setting that’s different. Based on the Belgian series Clan and adapted by veteran Irish comedian Sharon Horgan (who also stars as Eva, the eldest Garvey girl, who brought up her sisters after their parents died), the series explores the charm of incompetence. Even when the characters in Bad Sisters are doing pretty bad things, they tend to do them in an endearingly inept way, which makes for an unusual kind of crime series.

Saturday, Sep. 3, 2022

A wickedly funny and unexpectedly warm crime thriller (on Apple TV+, with new episodes dropping Tuesdays), Bad Sisters centres on a close-knit group of Irish siblings, the irrepressible Garvey girls, who decide they need to do something about John Paul (Claes Bang), the odious, abusive husband of their sister Grace (Anne Marie Duff).

In the first episode, we know John Paul is dead. (“He’s Satan’s problem now,” comments a not very mournful mourner.) Dogged insurance investigator Thomas Claffin (Brian Gleeson), with the reluctant help of his half-brother Matt (Daryl McCormack), is looking into the murky facts surrounding John Paul’s demise, hoping to avoid a payout that could sink the family business. “Strange way to meet your end” is as much information as we get about the death.

Through a series of flashbacks starting months before, we also know that the sisters have gone from joking about killing John Paul, to joking-not-joking about killing him, and then to outright planning. But we don’t quite know what happened, and it will be 10 episodes before these two plots converge and we get the big reveal.

With its twinned timelines and mysterious death, its exploration of female solidarity and patriarchal control, its coastal views and really large glasses of wine, this might sound like an Irish reprise of Big Little Lies. But it’s not just the Dublin setting that’s different. Based on the Belgian series Clan and adapted by veteran Irish comedian Sharon Horgan (who also stars as Eva, the eldest Garvey girl, who brought up her sisters after their parents died), the series explores the charm of incompetence. Even when the characters in Bad Sisters are doing pretty bad things, they tend to do them in an endearingly inept way, which makes for an unusual kind of crime series.

Catch Jaws 3D as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Preview

Catch Jaws 3D as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Friday, Sep. 2, 2022

Starting this long weekend, Jaws 3D is showing in theatres. Not to be confused with the misbegotten 1983 sequel Jaws 3-D, this is Steven Spielberg’s original 1975 classic, now re-released in 3D on the big screen.

I was too young to see Jaws when it first came out, though lurid stories of dismembered legs filtered down to the playground. I later caught it on TV, then on VHS tape. I’ve watched it on my laptop screen. I missed the 2011 summer beach showing at the Gimli Film Festival, a platonically perfect way to watch a movie about summer beaches.

So, given a chance to see an adored movie on the big screen, I dived right in (so to speak).

The 3D aspect of this Jaws reprise felt fun but not necessary. It made the jump scares jumpier, the chompy scenes chompier, and the sequences where ocean water seems to slosh over the edge of the screen even sloshier. Possibly the most alarming thing on that big 3D screen was Robert Shaw’s giant square head.

Friday, Sep. 2, 2022

Supplied

The poster for 1975’s summer blockbuster Jaws is a classic.

More dragons… but still sex, incest and gore

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Preview

More dragons… but still sex, incest and gore

Alison Gillmor 5 minute read Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022

TV watching is a relationship. It asks for a commitment. Sometimes you hang in through the tough times with the hope of better days ahead, and sometimes you decide it would be better just to finish things.

A lot of fans went through a bad break up with Season 8 of Game of Thrones. House of the Dragon, the big GoT prequel series now airing on Crave (with new episodes dropping Sundays) offers lovelorn viewers a chance to try again. But will it be like those heady first days of GoT Season 1, when everything seemed fresh and new, or will it just be a reprise of GoT’s final season, with its trust-killing terribleness?

House of the Dragon is set roughly 170 years before the events of GoT and focuses on the Targaryen dynasty, the blondest and most dragony of Westeros’s royal lines. HBO’s media promotion for the series has held out the seemingly contradictory promise that the new show will be both radically different and more of what viewers love. So, how exactly will that work? Episode 1 offers some clues.

● NOW WITH MORE DRAGONS: There seem to be a lot of them — we are informed the house of Targaryen has “10 adult dragons under its yoke” — and the CGI is better.

Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022

Milly Alcock, foreground, with Paddy Considine in ‘House of the Dragon.’ (Ollie Upton / HBO / TNS)