Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis

Goal: $100k

You want to catch up and watch the big Academy Award winners? It's easy. Most are already available from the streaming services. Prime Video has three big ones, Oppenheimer, The Holdovers and American Fiction. Apple TV has Killers of the Flower Moon and, get this, Poor Things is on Disney+.
And look what has happened to Henry Sugar which was named the best live action short. It's revived and packaged up with three others on Netflix. It leads my reviews this week which also look at a man's rush to rescue Jewish children before World War II, a story about discrimination in New Zealand, one about human mutations, a would-be comedy set in Quebec and a shock at an old friends' reunion in British Columbia.

The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar and Three More: 4 stars
One Life: 3½
Uproar: 3½
The Animal Kingdom: 3
Re:Uniting: 3
French Girl: 2

THE WONDERFUL STORY OF HENRY SUGAR AND THREE MORE: With his Oscar win this week (his first in eight tries) Wes Anderson's short films based on stories by Raold Dahl get new life starting today on Netflix. Seperately they've been up there since last fall, including Henry Sugar, the winner. Now they're re-packaged as one anthology and it's a treat. Anderson's quirky style fits perfectly with Dahl's darkly comic writing. Henry Sugar wants to cheat at poker. The Ratcatcher is overly convinced he knows how to exterminate rodents. The Swan falls victim to boys with a gun but has an unusual afterlife. Poison is brought in to save a man from a snake that may not actually be there.

Anderson's style is his signature; the scenes he stages are mannered. He has the stories told to us directly like narrators, at times by Ralph Fiennes as Dahl himself.

Courtesy of Netflix

Fiennes is also the bossy Ratcatcher. Dev Patel and Richard Ayoade narrate elsewhere. Ben Kingsley plays a guru in one film and an easily-offended doctor in Poison. Benedict Cumberbatch is Henry Sugar in one, the snake-fearing man in another. Backgrounds change onscreen. Stagehands appear now and then to bring props to the characters. The effect is loose and inventive; eloquently spoken and good fun. (Netflix) 4 out of 5

ONE LIFE: As World War II was approaching, a citizen effort started up in England to bring Jewish children out of countries in Europe before the Nazis invaded. Kindertransport it was called and this film tells of a parallel effort that may or may not have been connected. It was a personal project by a young stockbroker named Nicholas Winton. On a vacation trip to Czechoslovakia he saw the danger looming. He went back to set up a rescue mission, arranged for papers, okays from parents, and trains. There's intrigue as he worked around the German security types who in 1938 were already in that part of the country. He got seven trains out, over 669 children, but the 8th was stopped. He never learned what happened to the children on that one.

Courtesy of VVS Films

According to his daughter's book about him, which is the basis for this film, it haunted him that he hadn't been able to do more. He didn't talk about it and his story was unknown for 50 years. It's recently been told in various media and this version, with Anthony Hopkins playing him, will bring a few lumps to your throat. That's partly over his remorse, well-acted by Hopkins, partly over how the story became public. A BBC TV show came across it, invited him to come over to talk about it and filled the audience with people he had rescued. It's a very emotional scene. The film, directed by TV veteran James Hawes, is not exceptional until then. But it's always informative. Johnny Flynn plays him as the younger man, Helena Bonham Carter plays his mother and Lena Olin his wife. Solid, all of them. (In theaters) 3½ out of 5

UPROAR: There's a great sequence in this film from New Zealand showing a street battle between police and protestors. It captures the anger and the violence perfectly, and the tension leading up to it. And it's just one element that makes this a highly involving film. It's the backdrop and a motivator in the main story which is about highschool sports, a young man's growing up and his realization that as a Maori his status is low. “I'm a Maori surrounded by white kids,” 17-year-old Josh, played by Julian Dennison, says at one point.

Josh with his mother played by Minnie Driver. Courtesy of Photon Films.

The protests bring it into sharp focus for him because they're not about his life. They're against racism and apartheid far away, in South Africa. The occasion is a tour by a rugby team from there. It's 1981 and “Stop Racist Tours” and “Free Nelson Mandala” signs are everywhere. He goes there anyway with a borrowed video camera to document some of it and that brings trouble. Next morning he's prominent in a photo on the front page of the newspaper and he takes the heat. Also, his ambition to study at a prominent (and expensive) arts academy in Australia is in danger. The story entertains but the underlying themes about heritage, minority status and self-respect are what really stand out. Paul Middleditch and Hamish Bennett co-wrote and directed it. Minnie Driver plays Josh's mother and Rhys Darby is his encouraging teacher. (In theaters) 3½ out of 5

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM: If you're a fan of the TV series Sweet Tooth this film is a must for you. Or if you're just ready for another tale of human-and-animal hybrids, with all the allegorical meanings they carry. In this film from France, there are people who are suddenly taking on mutations with animal characteristics. We don't learn why; the film is all about how people deal with it. The authorities lock them up. Sometimes they escape, like the birdman who breaks out of a police van that's stopped in a traffic jam, thereby startling the father and son (Romain Duris and Paul Kircher) who we're following.

Courtesy of Mongrel Media

It turns out they're on their way to a“reception area” where mutants are being confined and where their wife/mother has been taken. We don't see what her mutation is but we later learn she and several others have escaped and run off into the woods. The dad is desperate to find her but it is now illegal to go into those woods, as a friendly gendarme played by Adèle Exarchopoulos points out. The son (Kircher) senses there's a mutation coming on to him too and struggles to hide the behavioral signs at school. The film communicates very well the fear and dread he feels and the young actor plays his role superbly. (He's one to watch). There's also a second story strand when he sees several mutants in the woods and meets the birdman (Tom Fix) again. They talk. Fight the animals or live with them? That's the question they deliberate. And that this engrossing sometimes gripping film puts to us. (In theaters) 3 out of 5

RE: UNITING: Twenty five years since they graduated college, eight years since they were last together, six friends re-assemble for a weekend of memories, laughs, catching up and generally having a good time. It looks like a typical reunion story. They're on picturesque Bowen Island near Vancouver and things do go as planned. They listen to old hits, drink, dance and recall what they did together and marvel how life has changed for them all. Wealth? “This getting of things sucks,” says one. Another is trying to keep a secret out of public knowledge. “Now every day is the same,” says a mother of three.

Courtesy of Vortex

Michelle Harrison is the host, Rachel. Jesse L. Martin is her husband, Bronwen Smith, is that mother, Carmen Moore, a neurosurgeon, Roger Cross, a former star football player, and David James Lewis, as an ever-immature playboy. Writer-director Laura Adkin, a former actor and, way before that, a projectionist, keeps the good mood flowing with smooth writing and directing. Then she throw in a zinger. I won't tell you what it is but it completely changes the tone of the film and ups the emotional feel completely. The subject is written about in the newspapers quite frequently so it's not obscure. But after all the sunny scenes that came before, it does deliver a chill. (In theaters, so far in Toronto, Vancouver and –one night only—Victoria) 3 out of 5

FRENCH GIRL: With romantic comedies you generally know all along how things will end. We may wish for novelty but rarely get it. Not in this one either although there are elements that could have triggered it. Imagine this: Zach Braff as a Brooklyn highschool teacher is living with his girlfriend (Evelyne Brochu) who cooks professionally and is originally from Quebec. When she gets an invitation to become the Executive Chef at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City she has to go.

Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

But this, only hinted at earlier, is new: the woman (Vanessa Hudgens) who invited and hired her is also her former lover. She wants to re-start that relationship. Zach's character comes along, is unaware of that history and experiences exactly what you'd expect, language trip-ups and awkward moments with her very Quebecois family. For instance, he can't talk hockey, only figure skating. He also steps into a situation: the family owns a farm, is in danger of losing it and needs the eldest son to stay and help work it. He wants English tutoring so that he can apply to become a policeman. (Is that required in today's Quebec?) Zach is ready to propose marriage but the engagement ring is stuck on a drying grandmother's finger. Storywise it's quite a jumble. There's even a car chase with our friends doing the pursuit driving a police car they've hijacked. There's more silliness. The film written and directed by James A. Woods & Nicolas Wright has a lot of it. Not that many laughs though. (In theaters) 2 out of 5