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Popular Reviews

Carter and Grace embrace

Stay the Night

Boy meets girl in Stay the Night, a story of an antsy girl and an angry boy who meet by accident in downtown Toronto and dance around each other hesitantly while writer/director Renuka Jeyapalan teases the audience with the old will they/won’t they. Grace (Andrea Bang) works in HR but has just got passed over for promotion. Too standoffish for a people-facing position, her boss says. Too picky generally, her sexually adventurous room-mate tells her. Carter (Joe Scarpellino), meanwhile, is an ice hockey player who’s just been canned from his team. Having taken his position for granted, he’s been coasting – till now. Overnight, if he’s very lucky, his agent might find something for … Read more
The family (plus guest) line up for a Christmas photo

Happiest Season

Gooey, sentimental Richard Curtis movies are the template for this wannabe starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a romantically linked couple going back to Harper’s parents’ for Christmas. Being a mainstream movie about homosexual love – Lesbians, Actually – these young women are not in-your-face dyke-on-a-bike Sapphics but nice young women who just want to be accepted for what they are. Neither is heroic – Abby’s parents are dead and so she never had to come out to them; Harper has never told her parents. And that’s the hook on which this film hangs. Is Harper going to fess up and simultaneously re-apprise them of the identity of her … Read more
Vin Diesel in Pitch Black

Pitch Black

A sci-fi shocker high on SFX, low on survivors and set on a planet where the self-serving and rather motley crew of an interplanetary cruiser are forced to pitch down after some unforeseen space ructions. It turns out that they are not alone on the planet. In fact this alien world is populated by some very unpleasant flying creatures who only come out in the dark. And – guess what – there’s a ginormous eclipse of the planet’s three suns on the way. Luckily, one of the spaceship’s number is gifted with uncanny nightsight. Unluckily, he is a vicious murderer locked in the ship’s brig. So there’s an awful lot of sucking of … Read more
Tony and the bouncer square off

Throw Down

Johnnie To’s baffling Throw Down, from 2004, is a hell of a good-looking film. It’s a homage to Akira Kurosawa a dedication at the end tells us – “the greatest film-maker”. And though you might find influences from the great Japanese director, who had died only six years before, you’ll search in vain for coherent storytelling, one of Kurosawa’s strengths. What the hell is going on, in other words. Three characters who have little obvious connection band together: Sze-To (Louis Ko), the drunken manager of a Hong Kong nightclub; Tony (Aaron Kwok), a figure of wild impetuosity who wants to fight everybody; and Mona (Cherrie Ying), a skank living on her wits, doing and … Read more
Yûsuke and his driver Misaki

Drive My Car

Ryûsuke Hamaguchi delivered two chunky movies in 2021. The three hour Drive My Car followed hot on the heels of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. Both movies are interested in identity and the way humans sometimes make use of lies in order to access truth. It’s a case of the theatre director, his driver, his wife and her lover, with the slightly hangdog Hidetoshi Nishijima playing Yûsuke, the grieving actor-turned-director trying to put on a production of Uncle Vanya with a cast using his celebrated avant-garde methods – different people talking in different languages (including one actor using Korean sign language). It’s a metaphor for the gulf between speech and meaning – language … Read more
James and young Bella

Strawberry Mansion

The Wikipedia entry for Strawberry Mansion describes it as “an American surrealist science fiction adventure romantic comedy film” – a genre pile-on by any standards. Whoever wrote that missed one – the fairy tale. For the strawberry mansion of the title read gingerbread house and you’ve about got the flavour of this strange surrealist (etc etc) film written and directed by two of its stars, Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney. After a strange preamble in which James Preble (Audley) finds himself trapped inside a strawberry coloured room, the action proper gets going with a segueway to Preble knocking on the door of a kindly old lady. He’s a tax inspector, he says, come … Read more
Hap and Mina sitting together

House of Darkness

Neil LaBute made his name first as a playwright then as a film-maker interested in exploring the codes of masculinity, some suddenly toxic, some still holding up OK(ish), in a culture that seemed to have moved on faster than some men were able to. In the Company of Men (1997) and Your Friends & Neighbours (1997) were his first two movies and are still sources of high-octane neat LaBute, if that’s what you’re after. He’s broadened his range and taken on gun-for-hire jobs in the interim but again and again returns to this same question of the male in trouble. Which brings us to House of Darkness, a tale of beta-male overreach enabled … Read more
Conor Leach as Sequin

Sequin in a Blue Room

“A Homosexual Film by Samuel Van Grinsven” is how the Sydney-based writer/director describes his feature debut, Sequin in a Blue Room, in the space where the usual “A film by” card comes up. Not “Gay”, not “Queer”. And “Homosexual” as if the film itself were homosexual, which is impossible. Perhaps Van Grinsven is staring down any would-be criticism with a “yeh, what of it?”. Or maybe he’s making it clear to the ninnies who don’t like this sort of thing that this sort of thing is exactly what they’re getting. It’s a love story, in essence, though one overlaid with all the modern-day paraphernalia of dating culture – the apps allowing hook-ups on … Read more
Aris on a child's bike

Apples

Apples makes clear that, even in 2021, the Greek Weird Wave continues to roll. A retro-scifi story of a world afflicted by an illness that robs people of their memories, it stars Aris Servetalis as Aris (handy), a man who leaves his home one day and then, suddenly, is sitting on the bus unable to answer basic questions like “where are you going?” or “what is your name?” The prognosis appears to be bad. In this world, once the memory has gone it can’t come back. And so Aris winds up in a medical program designed to give him new memories. He’s given a place to live and is asked to follow a … Read more
Virgine and Bill walking

Stillwater

There are two stories being told in Stillwater, one well, the other other not so well. Unfortunately for all concerned, it’s the one that’s told not so well that the film insists it’s all about, from its title all the way through to its concluding scenes. At 2 hours 19 minutes you’d have thought that there was time to give both stories a fair screw, but clearly something has happened between greenlighting and debut. That “something” might be lawyers, given what it’s about. Because it’s a loose adaptation of the Amanda Knox story. This was the messy and unsatisfyingly concluded case of the young American woman found guilty of killing a fellow exchange … Read more
Rocker Jack Kite and Johanna share a Walkman

How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl is the slightly – but not very – fictionalised story of Caitlin Moran, the British writer from the Midlands who published her first novel aged 15, was writing for the music paper Melody Maker aged 16 (gigs by night, home-schooling by day) and had her own column in the Times newspaper aged 18. She’s still writing for them. In the same way that journalism is not literature, this film is not a masterpiece of considered thought. Exactly as it should be, it’s a slightly chaotic, borderline marvellous yet reasonably forgettable dramedy charting Caitlin’s rise, fall and rise again in classic “had it, lost it, got it back” arc, … Read more
André Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in All Is by My Side

Jimi: All Is by My Side

Here’s a problem for anyone about to make a film about Jimi Hendrix, genius guitarist, 1960s icon, member of the 27 Club of rock’s premature expirers – how do you get inside a character who was private, taciturn, shy and elliptically cool? With a voiceover? A confidant? Newsreel footage? It’s a question that writer/director John Ridley answers with a shrug in this inert biopic which fails to locate Hendrix in his time. There’s another problem too. Hendrix died a long time ago now. Hell, even Kurt Cobain died a long time ago now, so Ridley needs to make a film that tells an audience who might know next to nothing about Hendrix why and … Read more

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