You don’t have to be a dog person to enjoy the heck out of Dog Days. Feel good stories about people getting together via dog adventures and positive life changes is something we all need. Times are tough and its balm for our weary souls. As a lifelong cat person I found myself going online to check out pups at the local OSPCA to dog it up but I digress. The characters have innate goodness like their doggos, and that’s a great place to start. Nina Dobrev, Vanessa Hudgens, Eva Longoria, Finn Wolfhard, and Adam Pally are going through changes, from welcoming an adopted baby into the house, a grown but unmotivated man-boy realising he wants to do more with his life, a news anchor finding her on air co-host may – or may not – be the one, and a barista finding her jam helping dogs. Dogs to the rescue! Lives intermingle, wounds are healed and fresh starts made, all within this small group of Angelinos and their pups. Dog Days is an antidote to the age of anger, folks and its positive effects linger.
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Spike Lee delivers a stinging and hilarious rebuke of racism in BlackkKlansman his most accessible, fun and mainstream film since the early days. It’s tongue-in-cheek, sassy and smart, an entertaining retro fable starring John David Washington, Denzel’s talented son in a fab ‘fro. He’s Ron a canny detective whose incredible rise in a 70’s’ police station in a small Midwestern town is unexpected to say the least, and swift. Law enforcement isn’t exactly populated by liberals and the local hero is KKK leader David Duke (Topher Grace). Ron sets in motion events that allow him to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan chapter with the help of his Jewish partner (Adam Driver) and incredibly becomes its leader. Crazy funny and at times and gripping. it delivers a kick in the pants of ol’ boy politics at the time when the civil rights movement began to look like something the “majority” feared. This is irony at its finest in the age of Trump and Lee nails it. Very satisfying.
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Puzzle is a lyrical portrait of a woman finding her power. Kelly Macdonald’s demure, self-sacrificing housewife Agnes looks after her family’s every need, every day, all day, and as a result lives a stunted life. She lives in New Rochelle and hasn’t been to New York in years. She bakes her own birthday cake, another act of servitude, just before receiving a present that will change her life. It’s a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle and it turns out she has a knack for it. She’s fast and sure. On a whim, Agnes answers and ad for a puzzling partner and agrees to meet him, which means traveling alone to New York and deceiving her husband. Irrfan Khan plays her impressed new partner who invites her to compete with him in Belgium. Bit by bit his interest in her morphs from player, to friend then lover, and he helps her shed her shell even as her husband tries to stuff her back in. She finds her footing and each step brings Agnes closer to her authentic self despite her stifled world. The idea is clear, if she can make profound change, so can we. Macdonald is mesmerising as Agnes grows in strength and purpose. And who knew there is a puzzling subculture? Director Marc Turtletaub adapted the film from another film, Rompecabezas.
The documentary Cielo directed by Alison McAlpine has its head in the clouds. Cielo opens with a stunning star laden night sky over the Atacama Desert in Chile, a vast and varied region with one of the world’s most pristine views of the sky. The director says she can hear the stars sweeping by. We visit an observatory and astronomists who claim theirs is a scientific interest but spend a lot of time outside staring at the naked sky. We meet goat herders whose lives are lived out entirely against the giant sky full of stars, and the miner who by contrast works in a cave where he says the air is heavy like stone. Villagers talk about the things in the sky, including huge inexplicable objects that appear and disappear. Another says aliens don’t come to earth because we are too evil. The locals’ lives are foreign to us because we are deprived of the enormity of the sky’s embrace that they feel every day and every night, that is an overriding fact of life. If you crave a look at the naked sky, there are several Dark Sky Preserves in Ontario. TIFF Bell Lightbox
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Netflix has itself in a bit of a pickle with the release of the new comedy series Insatiable. It concerns an overweight high schooler Patty played by Debby Ryan, a snappy comedienne with a great handle on satire. Patty’s bullied, badmouthed and dismissed because she has the nerve to be fat when in truth she is beautiful, smart and compassionate. Dallas Roberts is a lawyer accused of being a pedophile whose passion is beauty pageant coaching. He sees great potential in her and dreams of making her a beauty queen but first he must defend her on an assault beef for punching a homeless man who calls her fat. She winds up in hospital with her jaw wired and, hey, presto, she’s thin and on a mission to “crush” anyone who fat-shamed her. She’s taking zero prisoners. At the Anal Cancer Gala, her lawyer instructs her to “use your beauty for power” like Catherine the Great, Cleopatra and Drew Barrymore. The homeless guy shows up at group therapy and doesn’t recognise her. She sets him on fire and later kills him in hospital. Then she seduces the only witness who can put them together. And this is just the first two episodes. There are #MeToo jokes, jokes about Molester’s Balls, a suggestion that the male lead is a pedophile but the true pickle is fat shaming. Netflix Insatiable: A petition on Change.com calls for the cancellation of the show before it airs and stands at around 250 k signatures. Creator Lauren Gussis creator says the show reflects her own anxieties growing up, “in a very over the top way.” She tweeted “When I was 13, I was suicidal. My best friends dumped me, and I wanted revenge. I thought if I looked pretty on the outside, I’d feel like I was enough. Instead, I developed an eating disorder…and the kind of rage that makes you want to do dark things.”
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Netflix also debuts much tamer fare with the film adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ bestselling novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society directed by Mike Newell. Lily James plays Juliet Ashton who forms a life-changing bond with the book loving and eccentric Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and writes about the club formed during the occupation of Guernsey in WWII. Michiel Huisman, Glen Powell, Matthew, Jessica Brown Findlay and Katherine Parkinson also star with beloved character actors Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtenay.
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Are you watching The Missing Fridays on TVO or online? It’s a nerve rattling police procedural and psychological thriller about an English couple (James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connell) vacationing in France when their toddler son disappears. Language barriers and unfamiliarity with the country’s laws and ways cripple their early attempts to find him. We follow the case over a decade through flashback and flash-forward as the couple deals with trauma and frustration. They finally split from the pressure, she marries the English investigator and he goes on a solitary mission to find his son and who is responsible with help from a sympathetic French detective. Mind-bending twists and turns, and the spectre of international threat are part of the picture, and a man shows up offering his help and money. The series was first broadcast on the BBC in 2014 but good drama holds up.
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Rockumentaries at Dundas Square continue August 14 with Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones 2006 concert documentary Shine a Light which includes archival footage and front and backstage moments.
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August 21 – What Happened, Miss Simone? Details the life and spirit of the great jazz singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone via interviews with friends and family with archival performance and interview footage.
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The series concludes August 28, with Long Time Running the heart wrenching and joyous documentary on Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip’s 2016 Man Machine Poem Tour, Downie’s final shows before he succumbed to brain cancer.
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Each screening features a short from the Live at Massey Hall series showcasing Canada’s next generation of musical stars in live concert recordings in the legendary music hall. www.youtube.com/user/liveatmasseyhall