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By Anne Brodie

Yet another superb performance by Lesley Manville in a film set in the world of Haute Couture. From fashion house co-director in Phantom Thread to Royal clothes horse Princess Margaret in The Crown to London cleaning lady besotted by Dior in the wonderful Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris, Manville owns high fashion films! She has that creamy glowing English complexion and eyes, a great figure for clothes, and wears them well. Manville is Mrs. Harris, a cleaner serving wealthy and cash-strapped clients; her husband’s missing since WWII ten years later. Harris is dumbstruck by a 500-pound Dior gown in a client’s bedroom and determines then and there to own one. That’s impossible given her low income and the clients’ habits of not paying her wages. She does side jobs, bets on the dog races, and receives a pension for her husband’s war service when he is pronounced dead. Saving and scrimping and encouraged by a fellow cleaner and a racetrack employee pays off, et voila! she’s in Paris. Isabelle Huppert is the snooty Dior concierge who orders her out of the store but Harris is saved by a charming man. A series of events win her the affection of the Dior staff and Christian Dior himself, but I’ll let you find out how. I can be hard-hearted when told a film is “enchanting” but left with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. Eye candy + triumph of positivity + bonds to be made in this life = sweet distraction from our woes. In theatres now and on Netflix on July 22.

The doc Becoming a Queen on TVOD on July 19 takes us behind the scenes of one of the greatest parades in Toronto, the annual skedded for July 28 – August 1, to witness the passion and energy (and stress) that go into the “costume” (more like small houses) competition for Queen of Carnival in the epic annual Toronto Caribbean Festival parade. Launched in 1967, the Festival draws around 2M from Canada and around the world and is set close to Emancipation Day on August 1. Learn the roots of the festival tradition, its name, and themes, dating back to times when “the enslaved were banned from celebrating with masters so they did their own, mocking Europeans, the oppressors”. Documentarian Chris Strikes followed sisters and competitors Joella and Mischka Crichton, filming as Joella won title after title. Eight wins and records smashed, so what does it take to be a Queen? A supportive mother and sister, a trusted costume designer, confidence, a healthy sense of self-worth, a bright smile, and the ability to maneuver a massive “costume” sculpture, and win the hearts and minds of spectators. Joelle’s take on the Carnival -” It’s Toronto, its more than a party, it’s my history, womanhood, and cultural legacy”. The nerve-shattering ups and downs of building the costume, visualizing the event, and bringing together all the myriad details to make it real, leading to a benchmark moment, make this an eye-popping, provocative doc.

Dakota Johnson’s scintillating performance in Jane Austen’s Persuasion puts a new complexion on the beloved story. He Anne Elliott breaks the fourth wall to wink at the audience when people behave foolishly and there’s lots of foolish in her family. Her father (Richard E. Grant) is a vain, shallow (“I don’t like the idea of my shrubbery being looked at by others”) spendthrift who has driven the Elliotts to near bankruptcy and forced them to move to Bath (a preferred Austen location). There Anne is routinely left to look after the sick, the hypochondriac, and the deflated while her many sisters and father enjoy themselves. It’s 1760 and a women’s duty is to marry for wealth; by law, they couldn’t inherit, so it was husband or poverty. Anne almost married a sailor (Cosmo Jarvis) but he was poor and away, a shame because she loved him but she let him go, and now drinks and regrets it. Eight years later he returns to their social circle, a wealthy, respected ship’s captain, feelings stir in both but neither will break the ice. A sister pursues him as she avoids him when a supremely confident new man (Henry Golding) enters her life. Lots of ups and downs, blazing witticisms, and comeuppances, but let’s talk about the gorgeous art design. The wardrobe, the fine linens and Empire styles that blow so prettily in the coastal winds, the voluminous hats that oddly stay put, and the beautiful Georgian settings and decorations. Another worthy distraction from reality, also starring Nikki Amuka-Bird, Mia McKenna-Bruce, Ben Bailey-Smith, Yolanda Kettle, Nia Towle, and Izuka Hoyle.

If hired assassins, corrupt intelligence wars, and torture, blood, and guts are your meat, dig into The Gray Man in theatres now and on Netflix on July 22. The Russo brothers’ adaptation of Mark Greaney’s novel is not for the faint of heart or easily grossed out despite two H’wood heartthrobs. Ryan Gosling is Court “the CIA’s most skilled operative-whose true identity is known to none” and Chris Evans is Lloyd a psychopathic, sadistic ex-CIA with the worst moustache in Hollywood history. No doubt they are keen to expand their acting footprint in this unsubtle, clattering battle of the alpha males. An evil CIA exec (Regé-Jean Page) puts a bounty on Court who is familiar with what that feels like. Life on the job has led to isolation and hyper-alertness, he’s always on the move, on the lookout for danger, and cares for no one. That is until he is tasked with caring for the young daughter (Julia Butters) of his “handler” (Billy Bob Thornton) who bounced him from prison. He puts his professional shield around her as they run across Europe outpacing the army of assassins on their trail and then their luck runs out. Bring on the war machine – Court and Lloyd are Rasputins reborn, enduring direct shots, stabbings, bone breaks, and whatnot, and keep on tickin’ and the girl watches. Alfre Woodward is there to represent common sense.

Winona Ryder is Kath in a weird and unsettling number called Gone in the Night. She and her younger boyfriend Max (John Gallagher Jr.) who she barely tolerates, drive deep into the woods (shot in Sonoma County, CA) for a long-awaited weekend cabin getaway. They arrive tired, late at night to find another couple is in the cabin. After awkward exchanges with a hostile Al (Owen Teague), they are invited to stay the night. Kath is uncomfortable that Greta (Brianne Tju) is coming on to Max so she goes to bed. The next morning, Max and Greta are gone. Back home, Kath calls Barlow (Dermot Mulroney) who rented them the cabin and he offers help. They’re having a coffee when a random greets him as a world-class biotech entrepreneur and offers him a startup. He’s not interested; he has a genetic condition and is dying. A romance between Kath and Barlow seems possible, as they locate Al and Greta in hopes of finding what became of Max. It doesn’t take long and she begins to understand that a carefully constructed and dangerous conspiracy is in play. Director Eli Horowitz’s zany, unsubtle look at generational divides, damaging selfishness, and a world of lies is intriguing, creepy, and unintentionally funny. Select theatres and TVOD.

Adam Christian Clark’s Diary Of A Spy based on a true story follows Anna (Toronto’s Tamara Taylor), an intelligence officer who has screwed up once too often. Having returned from work in Russia and Saudi Arabia where all seven of her spy cell mates were killed, and once at home is disgraced, drinking heavily, and suffers from PTSD. She’s given the last resort assignment that will ensure her a pension, to seduce and recruit Camden (Reece Noi) a high-value asset in Los Angeles contracted to guard Fahda (Paulina Leija) the half-sister of MBS (Mohammed bin Salman), the notorious Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Camden’s a shadowy person of necessity, laser-focused on Fahda’s image and safety and on constant high alert as his charge drinks, and carries on forbidden affairs with women in public, and compromises her own security. Anna gets through Camden’s shell and eventually admits she’s not a petroleum engineer. He guesses the rest and they make their escape. This is a most unusual love story playing out through layers of disinformation and a growing list of enemies. Gripping and wildly improbable, it’s not your standard romance by any means, a truly unique and unfamiliar universe and it happened IRL. TVOD.

Emilia Fox, of the English acting dynasty (James, Edward, Laurence, Freddie, Mary, Jack, Lydia, Angela, Robert ) plays Sylvia Fox in Acorn‘s feature triptych Signore Volpe (Italian for Fox). Let that settle. Sylvia Fox is a British spy in MI5 who we see using “tradecraft” in a nail salon, with a street sweeper, and in her powers of observation and understand her skill and dedication to the job. But she’s stymied once too often by her colleague and ex-husband Adam (Jamie Bamber), and takes an unheard-of vacation to Italy, with her gear including a toothbrush USB. She attends her niece’s wedding in Umbria but Alice (Issy Knopfler) is troubled so the “anxious aunt” is soon back in the saddle investigating fiance Tomasso (Giulio Corso) when he fails to appear for the wedding. He’s not at his coastal home but a violently drowned woman is. She learns he is indebted to bad people and warns her niece. And thus begins the operation to bring them all down. And what ho, the Italian police detective has a twinkle in his eye that she returns. Gorgeous Italian scenery, architecture, food, and gardens. This is the first of three feature-length episodes. The second reopens a cold case when a body is found during an archaeological dig and in the third, Adam assigns her to investigate the son of a Russian politician arrested in Rome for murder while she uncovers a blackmail plot while looking for a kidnapped truffle pig. Good fun.

Robert Downey Jr., Susan Downey’s Team Downey, and Glen Zipper launch a remarkable four-part wildlife series The Bond, on discovery+. It illustrates something we know – that there is a powerful bond between us and animals, bonds that give life, joy, and empathy to both species, and date back millennia. From the vantage point of humans caring for animals against extremely difficult odds, it’s a heart-tugging series that will raise awareness and inspire people to do their part. Rae, an Australian ex-band manager, runs a kangaroo sanctuary in the coastal region of New South Wales that cares for a troop of about twenty “roos”. Her favourite, Kanku, a large male is the protector of young joeys and her best friend. All is going to plan when the horrific wildfires of 2019 sweep through wiping out the sanctuary, sending the roos fleeing and Rae and her volunteer Kate onto the water. The property destroyed except for a shed where the roo food is kept and no roos. But joy of joys, they return, one by one, traumatised, seeking Rae’s help, burned, wounded, and dazed, some unable to eat. It’s a long road to recovery and Rae looks to Kanku for his help with the troop as they heal themselves and one another. Utterly amazing. Episode 2 follows Jay Sargent and his friend Jojo, the bottlenose dolphin, 3 Cate and Chad Battles who live the Airstream life with Frankie the goat and 4 Desmond and Elizke Gouws prepare rescued cheetahs to return to the wild from their South African sanctuary.

Forever Summer: Hamptons takes the reality caravan to the chicest shores in the US of A to learn the dating and mating habits of the youngsters (17 – early 20’s I want to say), the Townies, the Citidots (what it sounds like) and crashers who share pristine beaches, massive $$$ seaside mansions in that worrying place in life between teen and adult. They’re gunning for romance over the summer, they are also thinking about college, jobs, where they want to live, what they want to be, and what to do when summer ends. As the kids manoeuvre their worries and date, cameras are grinding away, putting it all on a permanent record for all time. At that age, a person doesn’t know what it means but they want to be on screens; it’s a familiar place and good social media. All that aside, the kids scope each other out, and make their plays, some land, some don’t, and some land and become problems, and some result in premature decision-making. The best beverages are plentiful and whatever else. In terms of gender and sex, everything is on the table. As silly and over-dramatic and inane the level of entertainment value, its voyeurism captures kids at a vulnerable time. So that’s concerning. Prime Video.

Love Accidentally an Amazon FreeVee Original is an oversweetened confection aimed at YA audiences and young workers, about an affair that would never have worked on paper, but online, there it is. Popular YA star Brenda Song is Alexa and she’s vying with self-important Jason (Aaron O’Connell) for a promotion – if one of them can nail down vintner (Maxwell Caulfield) as a client, they win. It gets pretty chilly around the office with these “grown-ups” sending death rays through the eyes to one another and sabotaging them, the boss (Denise Richards) encourages it for some unknown reason. Jason has the gall to park in her named spot, which to me is just petty. And he does it for weeks! Alexa accidentally texts a man when she’s dumped for her long-time beau and turns out the guy in the text has also been dumped and they open up to one another. There are lots of sighs, eye rolls, and woe-is-me stuff which drove me bananas but let’s face it – this isn’t heading to the Oscars.



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