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By Anne Brodie

The Norwegian black and white Gunda, an Academy Award® Shortlisted documentary is a beautiful, joyous, difficult and emotional experience. Produced by animal rights activist Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Viktor Kossakovsky, it’s the story of a pig and her nineteen newborns, cattle who love to clown around and a one-legged chicken. Not a word is spoken in this visually eloquent black and white study of animal consciousness and their deep capacity for love. Gunda gives birth in the opening sequence and begins the gargantuan job of raising them over some weeks or months. There are no markers to define any of it, this is the pig’s story, not ours. The baby pigs and mum stick together closely as they learn to suckle, as she pushes along a piglet with a gamy leg, and they bond. They move like one white-flowing being, united in all they do. On a nearby farm, cows rush out of the barn into the fields, running, leaping, playing, and posing for provocative portraits for the film. The chicken’s struggles to get around break our hearts but we admire his/her fortitude. It’s stunning work, as quiet and powerful as a film gets. As I say, it is emotional and will change your day, and maybe your habits. TVOD on July 13th.

The presumed feminist Marvel film I’ve been waiting desperately to see, Disney+ Black Widow is available now in some theatres and on the service for an extra fee, but I didn’t pre-screen for you. I was ten minutes too late; my media access expired, I’m sad to report. From Disney, comes this femme forward “action-packed spy thriller, as Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow confronts the darker parts of her ledger when a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past arises. Pursued by a force that will stop at nothing to bring her down, Natasha must deal with her history as a spy and the broken relationships left in her wake long before she became an Avenger”. Stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz, directed by Cate Shortland. If you’ve seen Black Widow, why not post your thoughts below?

The “52 Hertz Whale” was first noticed in 1989, a lone giant unable to attract attention from other whales because its calls are inaudible. The broadcast frequency is a mid-level rumble at 52 hertz, hence its fate and the nickname The Loneliest Whale in the World. It likely can’t form a pod, a family, reproduce or share, a case so heartbreaking and intriguing that The New York Times, The Washington Post and Business Insider and other multimedia outlets have been on the case but it had never been seen. Filmmaker Joshua Zeman set out to document the whale’s solitary existence on what became a frustrating, long search. Marine biologists and scientists set sail in a cramped, high-tech boat fitted with tracing and listening devices along the western coasts of Canada and the US. 52 is well known to the US Navy which secretly tracked and recorded it for decades, but refused to hand over the materials. 52 is thought to have a different migratory path than other whales in that vast expanse of the northeast Pacific’s nutrient-rich waters. At one time the whale’s strange sounds were thought to be of mechanical origin, a Cold War surveillance device from Russia or China, due to its regular repetition, hence the top-secret navy designation. There were four supposed sightings in thirty years but no hard evidence. The team was to get photos and video, skin samples then tag it with a tracker. Drones, sonar detection and flute playing gained the team traction. But what they found was utterly unexpected, a shock. I’ll let you find out for yourselves! On TVOD.

Lift Like a Girl a documentary on the Olympic dreams of Eygptian adolescent female weightlifters and their colourful coach is nothing short of inspiring. Girls and a few boys gather each day and train lifting weights heavier than they are, from 1 – 5 p.m. Watchful coach Captain Ramadan reminds us again and again that he has trained four Olympic athletes in his decrepit vacant lot gym in Alexandria. He loves the girls and is a staunch feminist “A girl has to be as strong as a bull. Prioritizing boys is out of date. Girls are more important”. But he’s not above heaping swears and verbal abuse on them to fire them up to their potential, even though sometimes his words have the opposite effect. Fourteen-year-old Zebiba (Asmaa) is our touchstone, driven and emotional, whose impressive “clean” lifts are often inter-mingled with drops. She carries on, the apple of Captain’s eye, blazing a trail through local championships, then Alexandria, and Eygpt and Pan-Africa. Filmmaker Mayye Zayed puts us on the scene, in the sweltering sunlight and smoky nights. Captain and Zebiba are building a garden in a corner of the gym, watering the dead place and planting and we watch their garden progress as well. Mothers and captains strictly control the girls’ food intake; they must be lean and hungry. New girls show up, stir the pot and then settle into Captain’s benign dictatorship – he asks one of the ballsier newbies to “scare Zebiba’s opponent” just before she goes on! Zebiba’s shy determinism and sacrifice give her life meaning, we don’t see her in other circumstances. But there’s more. A wonderful, haunting foray into a different world where striving for success is a lifestyle, no matter how young. Chills. In theatres and part of

Haven’t heard much from Renny Harlin lately but he directs Pierce Brosnan, Tim Roth and Jamie Chung in the crime caper The Misfits. Notorious international thief and con artist Richard Pace (Brosnan) is at large in the Middle East. Nick Cannon, Jamie Chung, Mike Angelo and “Prince” Rami Jaber are The Misfits, and they want him to join them in an ambitious gold heist in exotic Abu Dhabi. They’re thieves /ninjas and martial artists who plan to rob the undeserving rich to give to the poor. Their motto “It is best to rob a bank and not be reported” so their work is subtle. Also, safe deposit boxes aren’t safe. Pace is the man who can help. Ringo (Cannon) is the leader and master of disguise of the little band that blows up drug factories so no drugs are produced there again, disposes of sex traffickers in Eastern Europe, and plans to take the gold to prevent it getting into the hands of a terrorist group known as the Muslim Brotherhood so in short, they are philanthropists; the gold will go to a childrens’ relief charity. Pace reluctantly joins thanks to the surprise appearance of his persuasive daughter Hope (Hermione Corfield) to whom he’s been an absent but loving dad. Roth, the FBI’s Middle East rep is on their trail and gives chase, but is outsmarted at every turn by the Misfits. A standard film of its kind with some amusing lines and situations, straight out of the early 90s, late 80’s. July 13 on TVOD.

Ronan Farrow’s 6 episode long-gestating Crave on HBO series Catch and Kill: the Podcast Tapes, born from his landmark New Yorker article on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse history is as shocking today as it ever was. New information emerges in Farrow’s interviews with victims, whistleblowers, reporters, producers, assistants and the spy that followed him, and Farrow’s reflections on being targeted for daring to write the piece. Weinstein’s long-term, sadistic sexual abuse of women with less power than he had was an open secret. No one dared go against the founder of powerful boutique film company Miramax. He is captured on tape making serious threats against his victims attempting to turn down his advances and court papers show the extent of his reach in the world’s filmmaking, business and political communities. Weinstein is currently serving 23 years in prison for multiple rapes and sexual assaults, so now people are talking. Farrow was an investigative journalist on NBC’s Today show but his centrepiece story on Weinstein was rejected when the net received legal and death threats. Umber Gutierrez, an aspiring actor, finally decided to stop HW by agreeing to wear a wire to a meeting with him, as police waited outside. He did what he did and the rest is history .. but what else happened? Farrow’s well-made, thorough doc is a tad self-serving but he is part of the story. Revelations about his father Woody Allen’s alleged abuse of his sister Dylan was the seed from which the article, podcast and this special sprung. Weinstein’s unveiling led to the #MeToo movement which has changed the industry in many powerful, meaningful ways.

Having avoided the entire original Gossip Girl I was keen to see what it was all about in the Crave retread. Overall the new generation of Gossip Girl reminds me of and is suggested by certain musical passages, of royal European (French) courts hundreds of years ago. At least the Hollywood versions of, say Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. All about wealth, manners, fronting, competition for acceptance from those higher up than oneself, petty gossip and behind-the-scenes machinations. A hidebound social circle in which ladies wore white lead makeup and men were extraordinarily fancy. So Gossip Girl, NYC, Constance St. Jude’s, THE private school for upper-crust kids – Caroline Kennedy attended! – and an occasional scholarship case that divides them into cliques and battles for Insta supremacy. They’re merciless to their low-paid teachers and treat them like servants. One fed-up teacher relaunches the old Gossip Girl Twitter account and the others spy, posting compromising videos to stir the pot, and tear the fabric of naughty, haughty girls. It’s the first day of the post-pandemic year, reuniting old pals, the rich kid social justice activist, the poor kid from Buffalo and her half-sister social queen, and plenty of mean girls and boys. Just a teaser, for guilty pleasures, tune in! It’s a LITTLE bit deeper than I have suggested, and super highschooly hormonal fun.

Crave‘s The White Lotus, Mike White’s dark comedy series stars Murray Bartlett, Connie Britton, Jennifer Coolidge, Alexandra Daddario, Fred Hechinger, Jake Lacy, Brittany O’Grady, Natasha Rothwell, Sydney Sweeney and Steve Zahn. Guests arrive at a luxury hotel in Hawaii for a pampering week-long stay. They’re wealthy, used to life’s finest things, entitled and just as messed up as anyone else. The titles sequence provides a hint of what lies ahead in elegant, wildlife wallpaper, beautiful tropical flowers and birds, as insects and reptiles lurking in the foliage are looking for prey. Cute. It opens with the end. A young man in the airport to whom a nice older couple is speaking reveals that he was on his honeymoon and that someone died. The press for more info and are told where to go as he watches the body being loading into the cargo hold. Back to the past and arrivals day at the White Lotus in Hawaii. A couple of sassy teenaged girls, the Greek chorus, dishing and dissing everyone and everything with fairly accurate assessments. The parents are self-absorbed, the son is confused. A single well-heeled woman rushes in, dying for a massage. It’s clear she’s in some kind of crisis of entitlement but there is no room at the spa. The guy who was on his honeymoon insists he’s been given a lesser room, not the ultra-expensive one his mother ordered and that complaint becomes the focal point of his stay – revenge. His bride, a lovely, even-tempered woman with the patience of a saint begins to think he may not be right for her. And Lani, the desk assistant, so desperate for the new job, gives birth on her first day. In her boss’ office. The long-suffering manager, so arch and gossipy is to go-to guy for all problems and has choice words for spoiled customers once they’re out of earshot. So, the series is ripe for all kinds of fun and suffering and humanity.

Frankie Browne says when you’re in love you think about the person every few seconds. She once met a fella on the Piccadilly Line, who overheard her being dumped. And now, her latest beau sends his twelve-year-old brother Wilbur to dump her, which is when Frankie realises every relationship she’s had has not ended in her favour. Why? Because she is a Love Type D, it’s genetic, she’s unlucky in love and there is nothing to be done about it, according to an American TV expert (Tovah Feldshuh). Frankie’s so desperate she chases down brainy Wilbur for advice. She finds him buying lingerie and carrying flowers, presumably for his brother’s newest girlfriend; he sees her and runs. But eventually, he agrees to be her romance guru. Next, she polls her office and finds there are many Love Type Ds amongst them; they unite and embark on a mission to overcome genetics; dumping others to reverse the curse. So they plot a Dumpathon. Endearingly funny and sweet, a positive take on the anti-romcom you could use. Stars Maeve Dermody, Rory Stroud, Oliver Farnworth, and Feldshuh, the debut film of Sasha Collington. TVOD.

Hulu‘s Irish series This Way Up S2 is up now, as Aine (writer & comedienne Aisling Bea) continues her unlucky in love streak. Aine’s an ESL teacher with a scathing sense of humour and a big packet of swear words at her disposal. She’s had a “teeny little nervous breakdown”, and with the constant shadowing of her sister Shona (Sharon Horgan) who could also use a little help. Aine’s just come out of rehab she and beau and boss Richard (Tobias Menzies) aren’t managing to get their act together, you know, in the bedroom. The sisters go for a spa day and overheat then it’s off to Shona’s extraordinary glass home and too much booze. Then it’s bridal gown shopping for Shona and more champagne. Wonderful veteran actor Sorcha Cusak plays their mother and she’s aghast as the girls insult the saleswoman. Etc. The series’ sensibility is so unlike American sitcoms, worlds apart and far edgier with leads you only grudgingly like. A wild experience.

You’d almost think Pete Lee was Canadian but the very nice comedian is from Wisconsin. He hates conflict, he’s happy when others are happy, he’s sweet, accomodating and well, he’s a people pleaser. And he’s funny!! His comedy special Pete Lee, Tall, Dark, and Pleasant now on Crave celebrates normal. He doesn’t use cocaine, carries cheese in his backpack, volunteers, says Jeeze Louise and “looks like a quarterback but inside I’m all cheerleader”. Lee’s charm offensive is winning, it’s so unusual and danged refreshing and while you may not have faith in him, he weaves his nice spell and you want to be his friend and laugh all the time. He’s hilarious and a feminist, says “Women are smarter than men. We need to level with ourselves. Women are the source of love in the world. Like trees, they take the bad air and make good air”. But he’s not above the odd cheat, recommending men do things they don’t want to do and pretend they love it because it works 100% of the time. You’ve either wandered back to 1907 or you are from Canada but Lee isn’t saccharin – he’s sharp, witty, and 100% unexpected. (Ed. note: I am NOT getting kickbacks from Crave!! :))

Sundance Now and Acorn TV pop the cork on The Wine Show a star-studded, intimate three-season exploration of viniculture and the fruits of the vine. Oenophile hosts British actors Matthew Rhys, Matthew Goode, James Purefoy and Dominic West combine travel and wine visiting eleven countries and studying their subject thoroughly, with insights from growers, critics and chefs, with wit, wisdom and a side of cheese. First, Italy, then the south of France and then Portugal. These episodes are available over the next several days with stops in London, New York City and the Azores to discover how sparkling wine originated. Later, wine and hip hop in California, then Thailand and Germany, then Hungary and so it goes. Learn wine history and wines types, flavours and grapes, that it has a strong health component, benefitting physical health, glowing skin and no fooling, benefits bodybuilding. And spending time with these fellas can’t hurt! Binge Seasons 1 and 2 July 15 and July 22 and Season 3 will premiere exclusively in U.S. and Canada July 29.



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