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By Anne Brodie

Jonas Carpignano’s A Chiara is a stunner. Swamy Rotolo is 15 – year old Chiara, the middle daughter in a close-knit loving (real-life) family living in Calabria, and they’re celebrating her sister Giulia’s (Grecia Rotolo) 18th birthday. Family and villagers pull out all the stops with a cramped, joyous dinner party complete with testimonials. Strangely Giulia’s father Claudio (Claudio Rotolo) refuses to toast her with a speech and begs her not to ask. Privately he tells her she is his life; we’ve seen Claudio playing and hugging his girls beaming with love. Chiara wakes and sleeps, signalling a time-shifting, almost hallucinatory, uncertain view of life. She thinks she sees her father leaving in the middle of the night as her mother chases him. His car explodes. Chiara learns to her horror that he is a gangster, a drug trafficker, and works with corrupt politicians. Seems the rest of the family knew and they ask her to accept it. Chiara is shocked to find a trapdoor and bunker under their house and learns not to talk in the car, or on the phone in case they’re bugged. Her life is turned upside down so completely, that it shifts between trauma and joy in inventive, risky ways thanks to Carpignano’s unique perspective on the emotional thriller. A gut-punch of an ending that intriguingly posits different outcomes. A Chiara will wake you up and take you places you’ve never been. In theatres -VanCity, Vancouver, Carlton, Toronto, Cinema du Parc, Montreal, and more markets in the coming weeks. Don’t miss it.

Maggie Chung starred as Mira in Olivier Assayas’ 1996 film Irma Vep, as a fictional version of herself, a movie star landed in France to begin production on a remake of the 1915 silent film Les Vampires by Louis Feuillade. A reporter investigates a secret society of criminals dubbed the Vampires. Cut to 2022 and Alicia Vikander is Mira, in Assayas’ series of the same name for Crave HBO. Mira’s the American star in Paris, navigating an unstable film shoot led by a chaotic director (Vincent Macaigne), wrestling with her ideas about the character of Irma, the vampire, and encountering multiple former lovers. Her relationship in LA crashed just as her latest action film Doomsday turned out to be a blockbuster. She’s reeling from it all. A calm exterior masks her turmoil; it appears she’s got it all together, as she’s called on to answer for the trail of broken hearts she’s left behind. Constantly reminded of her celebrity with inconvenient Vogue shoots, interviews and fans Mira is then told the production is shutting down; the director is uninsurable. She’s asked to star in Silver Surfer and give up her indie cred project for an action film blank check. Fragments of Les Vampires teasingly pop up as part of Mira’s studies, as set pieces and hints of dire things to come. Vikander seems energised by this wildly inside story of murder, madness, treachery, love, sex, art, and commerce. It’s a kitschy and an atmospheric adventure of the mind and a film within a film within a film. Warning: contains scenes with Vocal Fry. On Crave.

The 50th anniversary of the landmark Watergate scandal on June 17th reminds us of one of the darkest chapters in American history, under Republican president Richard Nixon, the infamous break into the Democratic National Committee offices in Washington’s Watergate Hotel. Five conspirators were arrested and investigators were able to trace money directly to the Committee for the Re-Election of the President. Three articles of impeachment were brought against Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress, forcing his resignation in shame. 48 people were arrested, all tied to Nixon. Tapes of his telephone conversations with co-conspirators were used as evidence except for 18 and half minutes of missing audio and that takes us to 18½. Dan Mirvish’s imagined story with Bruce Campbell as the voice of Richard Nixon is many things – nutty, bizarre, and profoundly shocking, a nice mix of sensations, a story of a woman who discovers the missing audio of Nixon and his Chief of Staff HR Haldeman in a conversation 3 days after the break-in. Willa Fitzgerald and John Magaro are Connie and John and they’re on a mission of national importance. Connie’s a professional transcriber who finds the missing audio in her office files, tape assumed to have been erased at Nixon’s request by his secretary Rosemary Wood. Connie hears enough of it to realise she’s sitting on a time bomb and contacts John, a reporter at the Times; they only have two days to listen as she must return the tape Monday. The audio points to the highest levels of conspiracy, at Nixon’s doorstep. The fictional part is pretty clever. Connie and John hide out in a remote lakeside motel posing as a married couple in need of a reel-to-reel tape player. They face nerve-wracking obstacles in the form of a nosy and talkative “I’m not for everyone” motel owner (Richard Kind), a hippie guru and his ladies, and a peculiar couple (Vondie Curtis Hall and Catherine Curtin) who would like to get a little too close. I won’t spoil the shockers but want you to know this explosive, smart film is a must-see. Also stars Ted Raimi as Gen. Al Haig and Jon Cryer as HR Haldeman. 18½ is in select theatres now and on TVOD on July 5th. Warning: I’d advise not going down the “18 missing minutes Watergate” Google hole without unlimited time, erasable charts, and determination.

Dustin Lance Black takes us into the heart of Mormon Latter Day Saints fundamentalism in the FX original series Under The Banner Of Heaven on Disney + June 8th. The true-crime limited series is based on the 1984 murder of Brenda Wright Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and her baby daughter, and faith-based corruption and murder in an isolated Mormon community in Utah. Detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield) is a devout Mormon, mowing his suburban law as his little girl plays in ultra-conservative dress; he’s called to a tragic murder scene, a mother and child. Her husband is the prime suspect but in panic, asks that his family be protected against “peculiar men with long beards” who had been coming around. He says he’s innocent, and that his only regret is not taking his family away from the Mormons. His late wife had been working towards a career as a singer and TV newswoman, and her family had come for her – “she’s too outspoken”. Pyre interviews the Laffertys and learns that they are Morman extremists, members of the School of Prophets offshoot. He’s shaken but his faith is intact, as he searches for answers, focussing on two Lafferty brothers whose belief system espouses acting directly when the church is threatened. They believe they are doing God’s will “under the banner of heaven”. Pyre believes there’s a connection to Satanism, as he learns the real roots of Mormonism and its splinter groups, including the anti-tax Patriots for Freedom. There are major forces at work complicating the investigation and he learns the true nature of religious fundamentalism. “Mormons kill people who step out of their place, it’s all over our history. An obedient saint will exile steal, and kill”. All the while Pyre must look at his own faith to see if his hands are clean. Chilling, and riveting, buoyed by Garfield’s superb performance. Is there any role he can’t conquer?

A new action star is on the horizon and you can catch her in the fun, silly, and satisfying Double Threat on TVOD now. Child star Danielle C. Ryan puts a twist on the female action hero, she’s Natasha, or more truthfully Nat, the quiet serene sensible one, and Tasha the adrenaline junkie who can beat down four bruisers in forty seconds. Natasha is diagnosed with a dissociative disorder or split personality, two separate entities who are aware of one another and together equal a complicated and multi-talented force of nature. For all of Nat’s sweet nature, Tasha seems essential to keeping her safe. They live life on the edge and are now on the run. She works in a convenience store, a front for a criminal organisation, and skimmed money to get outta there. Low-key accountant Jimmy (Matthew Lawrence) comes in at the wrong time; they’re forced to kill thugs and head to the coast. Nat and Tasha share with Jimmy their frustrations with their other halves and he’s frightened of Tasha’s world. She thinks he needs loosening up and just as they are well hidden and enjoying themselves watching medieval reenactors in a desert canyon, the mob shows up. Ryan is a startlingly good performer and I hope Double Threat encourages the big guns of Hollywood to give her major roles, mad skillz and the camera loves her. From director Shane Stanley and writer Writer CJ Walley.

London Kills S3 on Acorn TV on June 6 uncovers the possibility that police may be investigating one of their own in a series of murders. Informant Grace Harper is murdered in her flat at the Rose and Crown pub, a gathering place for local white supremacists. A young man with learning disabilities is found dead in a home he was painting; he lived in the pub with his brother – a criminal with a long record. The distraught brother calls the boy’s phone and we see who has it in his possession. It’s a police officer. The victim was close with the late Ms. Harper and had knowledge of a major crime. DC Vivienne Cole (Sharon Small) leads the investigation and finds the homeowner where the victim was painting is a drug dealer and may have been using the vulnerable young man as a courier. Her growing suspicion that the murders are inside jobs points to a much wider crime involving law enforcement. Meanwhile, D.C. Brady’s (Bailey Patrick) work on horrific crime scenes is taking its toll. When a murder suspect sends him a video taken inside his daughters’ bedrooms, his PTSD lays him low. Interesting wide-ranging series shot in picturesque London.

The BritBox Original comedy series Kate & Koji is back for a second season. Brenda Blethyn, star of Vera and some excellent films, resumes her role as crotchety Kate, owner of a diner somewhere along the southern English coast. It’s a seaside tourist destination but COVID-19 threatens to wipe her out. Koji, the African doctor awaiting immigration status is back, parking himself at a table, illegally dispensing medical advice in return for free food. Original Koji, Jimmy Akingbola, is on to other projects including Will Smith’s Bel-Air and replaced by Okorie Chukwu. Kate is deep in debt and will do anything to bring in the customers like tell birders a rare species is nearby, not true, to keep them coming back to the diner. On the plus side, she’s being given the town’s Lockdown Legend Award for serving up food to locals without interruption. Her rival Lavinia, a Councilwoman will present it to her, “like being presented an OBE by Prince Andrew”. More PA jabs ahead. Kate gets hold of a gun, asks the local mob for a loan, and tussles with Lavinia. Kate & Koji is pleasant, fun, and doesn’t ask a lot, and it’s fun to see Blethyn best known for serious drama in a light sitcom.

Finally a streaming home for all 200 episodes of one of the funniest sitcoms in television history. I Love Lucy produced by and starring husband and wife Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, set the standard for the three-camera live-to-tape sitcom so familiar to us now, Lucy was arguably the most powerful woman in Hollywood. The show’s international success made Ball the most famous woman in the world. And the comedy, albeit not woke, stands the test of time. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo lived in an apartment building in Manhattan owned by their best friends Ethel and Fred Mertz. That gifted foursome of actor/ comedians was the magic formula, exploring friendship, the daily life of housewives Lucy and Ethel, superintendent Fred, and club owner and bandleader singer Ricky. Their shenanigans are iconic and remain fresh and funny and often reflected Arnaz’s real life, they seem like friends and neighbours, Lucy’s runaway imagination, Ricky’s temper, and his patience, Fred and Ethel’s bickering, their travels, catastrophes, and 200 happy endings are the comedy lifeline we could all use now. Streaming on Paramount +. !!!

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