Teenage drama can seem slight in retrospect, but director Moselle’s 2018 movie Skate Kitchen gracefully captured fumbling conflicts wrought by white lies and jealousy without resorting to overstatement. Like many skateboarding movies, the pastime was framed as an escapist outlet from tension at home. This six-episode TV reboot drops that central theme and reunites the same cast of New York City skateboarders – Rachelle Vinberg, Ajani Russell, Nina Moran, Moonbear and Dede Lovelace – for another summer of hanging out, bad decisions, stoner gags and -personal growth. Whereas the film had a leisurely and romantic grandeur, Betty is just leisurely – which is fine. Each charming cast member gets a more substantive arc as Skate Kitchen lead Vinberg shifts to ensemble player. Moselle wistfully captures downtown NYC summer vibes and plot points hinge on class, race and trust among friends. Betty is more slight, its narratives a little more contrived than character-driven, compared with Skate Kitchen. But the characters feel fully alive. The message that communication and emotional vulnerability are learned the hard way comes through in vivid details without veering too far into morality play. Episodes air Fridays on HBO Canada and stream on Crave.NNNN
Belcourt’s drama stars Orphan Black’s Kristian Bruun as Damon, a heartsick geologist who volunteers for a one-way mission to Mars, and The Expanse’s Cara Gee as Phoebe, a musician who complicates his plan. A small movie about big things, it feels right at home on the small screen. Belcourt (Tkaronto) and co-writer/co-producer Duane Murray find a lovely contrast between the scope of interplanetary travel and Damon’s own internal journey, finding small notes of comedy in the character’s pathetic state: dumped by his wife (Meghan Heffern) for a more athletic lover (Morgan David Jones), Damon now lives in the basement of the home they used to share. Bruun builds a marvellous performance out of that situation, which has amplified Damon’s other insecurities: he’s so deeply uncomfortable around people that leaving the planet can seem like a viable option. Gee’s lively, complicated energy sparks him back to life without quite tipping over into manic-pixie-dream-girl wish-fulfillment; she’s her own person with her own stuff to deal with, and Red Rover is open to that as well. 103 minutes. On video on demand platforms. NNNN
(Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan)
Murphy and Brennan’s Netflix mini-series is earnest, cheesy and self-congratulatory. And yet, it got to me. The show shines a light on marginalized characters who orbited tinseltown in 1957, working in the shadows playing demeaning roles on screen or turning tricks at motels. It has fun tweaking history, Tarantino-style, to empower those characters and give them a happy ending. David Corenswet, Jeremy Pope, Pattie Lupone, Joe Mantello, Laura Harrier and Darren Criss play the variously gay, straight, Black, white and Asian characters making a movie about Peg Entwistle, the actor who climbed up the letter H on the Hollywoodland sign and leapt to her death in 1932. However, in Murphy and Brennan’s Hollywood, Entwistle’s tragic and true story about crushed dreams gets flipped into a vehicle for hope. The series has a crafty way of taking one metaphor and turning it into another as it morphs into a delightfully naive screwball comedy built on “what ifs.” Seven episodes streaming on Netflix Canada. NNN Read a longer review here.
Castle In The Ground
After his intimate, devastating drama The Other Half, writer/director Klein delivers a very different study of co-dependency about a young man (Alex Wolff) who falls into the orbit of a troubled neighbour (Imogen Poots) in Sudbury, 2012. She’s an opioid addict; he’s about to be. The film filters a conventional addiction narrative through layers of grief, attachment and atonement, and Klein – an actor himself – lets his cast play those notes fully. Wolff plays a minor-key variation on his lost-soul quality from Hereditary, Poots mixes restlessness and rage as his damaged mentor, and Tom Cullen and Neve Campbell make brief, quietly heartbreaking appearances as people dealing privately with profound pain. You’ll feel for all of them. One small caution: a lot of this movie takes place in small, suffocating apartments where people are effectively isolated with themselves or each other. Given our current circumstances, rewatching it now was a considerably more intense experience than I’d expected. 105 minutes. Available on video on demand platforms. NNNN
Tom Henry: 66 Jokes
This comedy special demonstrates why Toronto’s Henry is one of the funniest and most distinctive stand-ups working today. Taped last year at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival, 66 Jokes collects some of his best jokes (many previously heard on his album Tom Henry Kills), delivered in his signature deadpan, expressionless style. He’s especially good at taking apart banal everyday expressions – “no rhyme or reason,” “fit as a fiddle” – or playing with your expectations after he sets up a joke. People with full sleeve tattoos; amateur musicians who have lightning bolts on their guitar straps; vegan bakers – no one is spared from his merciless, sharp observations. Henry takes special glee in quietly sending up the pretentious and gimmicky, like the guy who wrote a novel without using the letter e. And he’s clever enough to mix up the energy of his short jokes with two sequences, one a playful haiku section accompanied by a tenor sax, and the other… well, it’s too intriguing to spoil, but it provides a fittingly absurd twist to the end of his brilliant set. Begins streaming March 15 on Crave. 44 minutes. NNNNNRead an interview with Tom Henry here.