Table of contents
- THE FENCE (RENT OR BUY)
- RETREAT (RÉDUIT)
- THE OFFER (PARAMOUNT +)
- MAINSTREAM (RENT OR BUY)
- SLOW HORSES (APPLE TV +)
- NIGHT’S END (SHUDDER)
- THE ADAM PROJECT (NETFLIX)
- FILM AND TV BITES ARCHIVE
- Margrete: Queen of the North (Rent or Buy)
- Bump (Short Film)
- See For Me (Rent or Buy)
- Archive 81 (Netflix)
- King Car (Rent or Buy)
- Boiling Point (Curzon Home Cinema)
- Free Fall (Short Film)
- JFK: Destiny Betrayed (SKY)
- VAL (SKY)
- Dinner in America (Arrow)
- TITANS: Season Three (Netflix)
- Batman: The Long Halloween Part One and Two
- The Boy Behind the Door (Shudder)
- How to Deter a Robber (Rent or Buy)
- The Return (Rent or Buy)
- High Ground (Rent or Buy)
- Vicious Fun (Shudder)
- Luca (Disney +)
- The God Committee (Rent or Buy)
- My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
- Dream Horse (Rent or Buy)
- Great White (Rent or Buy)
- SLAXX (SHUDDER)
- Lost at Christmas (rent or buy)
- HAM: A Musical Memoir
- My Dead Ones (rent or buy)
- Concrete Plans (rent or buy)
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THE FENCE (RENT OR BUY)
Film and TV Bites: The Fence is available to rent or buy.
Written and directed by William Stone, The Fence builds upon his 2018 short film of the same name as it takes us back to 1980s Bristol for a coming-of-age tale of brotherly love, motorbikes, friendship and crime. At its core, this simple story of a boy and his stolen motorbike may appear too simplistic for the one hour and thirty-minute runtime it consumes, but Stone’s film is far more than an exploration of community justice on the streets of Bristol; its a love letter to friendship, brotherhood and community that shines through the performances of its young cast.
Steve (David Perkins) works at the local butcher shop while supplementing his income with some illegal fishing. With half his money going to his mum (Sally Philips) while his dad gets drunk down the pub, Steve dreams of finally saving enough to own a small Honda XL 125 motorbike. As Steve finishes another shift at the butcher’s, the time to pick up the bike he has dreamed of for so long has finally come. Riding it home, Steve parks it outside the house, only for it to be nicked from under his nose.
READ MORE: TURBULENT TEENS
The police have no interest in helping Steve when they hear he is the kid brother of Andrew Knight (Eugene Simon), who is currently on probation due to his short temper. Therefore, Steve has no choice but to try and find the bike, with a little help from his older brother and mates. What ensues is a delightful tour of the city’s hidden underbelly and its colourful gallery of rogues. Here Stone couples moments of brilliantly timed comedy with an unexpected emotional depth as The Fence delicately but powerfully explores domestic abuse, limited opportunity and addiction.
It’s clear from the outset that The Fence was a labour of love for the director, producer and crew; the attention to detail is exquisite, alongside a screenplay that oozes charm. But even more impressive is that Stone only graduated from University in 2017. As a debut feature, The Fence firmly places Stone in the category of exciting new British directors, as he achieves a level of authenticity many older directors would struggle to capture.
When you add to the mix the exciting new talent of David Perkins as David, who up to this point is best known for Hollyoaks, The Fence becomes a truly delightful coming-of-age movie that wears its heart on its sleeve as it unpicks themes of hope, loss, friendship and adolescent anger with ease. While the plot may be simple, and the drama is at times formulaic, The Fence is one hell of an enjoyable ride, and as the credits rolled, I found myself excited to see what Stone brings us next.
Film and TV Bites: Retreat (Réduit) received its European premiere at Thessaloniki Festival
Sometimes the power of a film is held in its moments of silence. Leon Schwitter’s delicate and stunning deconstruction of a father and son relationship, Retreat (Réduit), is one of those films. Shot among the majestic beauty of the Swiss Alps, Retreat is a visual spectacle, a celebration of wilderness and nature that delights in submerging us into the sensory depths of the mountains and forests. Many will label Schwitter’s movie a survival drama; however, its roots go much deeper as we follow Michael (Peter Hottinger) and his son Benny (Dorian Heiniger) as they reconnect in a remote mountain cabin.
Benny hasn’t seen his father for some time following family separation, but what starts as a holiday quickly morphs into something far more unnerving as Benny realises his dad has chosen to escape humanity. Michael believes society is heading for disaster, and his mountain home offers the only chance of survival. Michael loves his son with all his heart, but will his need to protect him at all costs place them both at risk as the mountain snow begins to fall, and the cabin retreat becomes a prison.
READ MORE: THE BLAZE
Schwitter isn’t afraid of silence, which only increases the film’s sensory depths and slow-building tension as the green mountains and forests are coated in a thick layer of snow. As the snow builds, the atmosphere becomes claustrophobic, and the psychological dimensions of a fractured father and son relationship become clear. Benny grows before our eyes as he realises his dad cannot survive without him, while Michael becomes more unstable in his actions and beliefs. Hottinger and Heiniger’s performances are nothing short of outstanding as they captivate, unnerve and enthral us through a simple look, gesture or action as the winter takes hold and life becomes a fight for survival.
But it is within the final act that Schwitter’s film is at its most fascinating as the divide between a father and son melts away to create a shared worldview born of love, protection and resilience. However, how long this new shared view lasts is left hanging in the cold winter air as the snow melts, and the power dynamics between a boy and his dad form into something new.
THE OFFER (PARAMOUNT +)
Film and TV Bites: The Offer is streaming now on Paramount +.
Sometimes the making of a film is just as fascinating as the end result. Over the years, many movie productions have sparked public interest, from Apocalypse Now to The Twighlight Zone and Wizard of Oz. In the new Paramount + drama The Offer, the making of The Godfather takes centre stage, and it’s one hell of a story! Told from the perspective of producer Albert S. Ruddy (Miles Teller), The Offer aims to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic.
The Offer is at its most interesting when exploring the changing landscape of the studio system in the early 1970s. Here the infamous Paramount boss Robert Evans takes centre stage, played brilliantly by Matthew Goode, a man who never followed the rules and saved the crumbling Paramount mountain from sliding into a lake. However, while the exploration of a studio on the precipice of disaster is fascinating, the making of The Godfather often feels confusing, despite some solid performances.
While fun and engaging throughout, The Offer never quite decides whether it’s a homage to a groundbreaking movie or a serious exploration of a changing Hollywood. As a result, The Offer becomes an overly-long and slightly confusing mess by the time we reach the final three episodes. Here the show’s initial promise is quickly lost as it becomes over-indulgent and twee. But despite its failings, The Offer also remains surprisingly addictive viewing, which is undoubtedly due to the performances at the heart of this flawed but engaging limited series.
MAINSTREAM (RENT OR BUY)
Film and TV Bites: Mainstream is now available to rent or buy.
We live in a strange new world where people consume media like pringles; it’s a ‘once you pop and you just can’t stop’ conveyor belt of content, from YouTube to Instagram and Tik Tock. Here we are encouraged to like, dislike, comment and buy while judging our own worth based on the number of friends we have or the number of likes we get. Don’t get me wrong social media and instant video sharing is also a force for good in many ways, but finding the good stuff has become more and more like wading through treacle over the years. I know what some of you are thinking, “you don’t get it” or “Maybe you’re too old to understand.” But are those thoughts your own? Or are you, even now, buying into the arguments the overlords of social media and instant video sharing want you to use?
On its delayed premiere during the 2020 Venice Film Festival, many critics, apparently, walked out of Gia Coppola’s movie in disgust. And possibly due to the plethora of one and two-star reviews following this, Mainstream has only just arrived on digital in the UK. So is it terrible? Is it confusing? And is Andrew Garfield’s power and fame-hungry Link the devil incarnate? Mainstream is far from a terrible movie; it’s a complex satire that hits the mark on several occasions when dissecting our social media-driven world. There are genuinely fascinating themes at play, from mass manipulation to psychological harm and the dangerous frenzy of fandom.
READ MORE: SPREE
However, Coppola’s film, at times, does lose its way, and much of this is due to the dated concept of the YouTube celebrity. YouTube hit its stride in the late noughties, creating young internet megastars who most people no longer remember. In many ways, you could argue that the current social media landscape is even more toxic than it was then, and here Coppola misses a trick by focusing solely on YouTube and ignoring the rise of sites such as Tik Tock.
But does that decrease the power of Garfield, Hawke and Wolff’s dark and unsettling exploration of fame, manipulation, control and entertainment? Not at all! Coppola manipulates us, the audience, from start to finish, wrapping us in a mix of truth and lies resembling a knotted ball of wool. As the yarn unravels, we are left with a tangled and knotted pile that only we can unpick if we have the will to do so.
READ MORE: A NIGHT IN THE FIELDS
SLOW HORSES (APPLE TV +)
Film and TV Bites: Slow Horses is streaming now on Apple TV.
Based on Mick Herron’s novels and adapted by Will Smith (The Thick of It), Slow Horses humour, gritty London streets and electric performances hit all the right notes in all the right places. Sitting in a dank, festering office block nicknamed ‘Slough’ by the sharp-suited spies at MI5 sits River Cartwright (Jack Lowden), a promising MI5 recruit from a family of spy royalty. However, following an unfortunate training exercise, River has found himself banished to the arse hole of MI5′ Slough House.’
Housed just above a non-descript retail unit, River is joined by a troupe of failed spies, including Sid (Olivia Cooke) and their boss, the spikey 70s throwback Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman). However, River’s interest is quickly spiked when Sid is asked to extract information from a prominent right-wing journalist; after all, Slough House never gets involved in operations, right?
READ MORE: DEFENDING JACOB
Many will point to the stellar cast Apple TV and See-Saw have pulled together for Slow Horses, from Lowden to Oldman to Jonathan Pryce, Freddie Fox, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Rosalind Eleazar. But the true genius of this incredibly satisfying spy romp through London is undoubtedly held within Will Smith’s take on Herron’s work. Of course, as with any good spy drama, the least said about the plot, the better, but trust me when I say this is TV at its very best, and by the final episode, you will be screaming for more.
James Hawes’ direction ensures a perfect pace alongside thrilling action scenes and a delightfully British air of sarcasm throughout Slow Horses. The result merges elements of Spooks with Line of Duty and James Bond while maintaining sharply dark humour through the stunning performance of Oldman. But let me finish with one thought that kept swimming around my mind during season one, Lowden’s potential as a new Bond, so come on, Barbara Broccoli, think about it.
NIGHT’S END (SHUDDER)
Film and TV Bites: Night’s End arrives on Shudder on March 31st.
In 1999 the highly underrated Stir of Echoes proclaimed, ‘Some doors weren’t meant to be opened’ on its poster. Directed by Jennifer Reeder, Night’s End could equally have carried this well-worn slogan as we witness Ken Barber (Geno Walker) descend into hell in the confines of his small apartment. Ken is clearly a man with several significant personal issues; after all, he barricades himself into his new abode, blocking each window from the outside world while filming self-help videos on YouTube. Meanwhile, he collects dead birds, his fridge stuffed with plastic-wrapped warblers and convenience food. However, when his friend Terry notices one of his stuffed birds fall from a shelf behind Ken during his latest video, Ken begins to explore the spooky history of the apartment with devastating results.
Despite sitting firmly in the haunted house/demonic possession sub-genre of horror, Reeder’s film also plays with many of the themes of isolation and separation brought about by the pandemic. Here we witness a man slowly unravelling as he shuts himself away from the real world, each day merging into the next. Within Reeder’s exploration of Ken’s slow mental separation, Night’s End is at its most satisfying and scary. However, unfortunately, Reeder opts to shift gears, and Ken’s journey ultimately becomes wrapped in mainstream demonic horror. Here the initial psychological promise of Night’s End quickly falls flat despite Geno Walker’s solid performance, as we are left with an, at times, chilling but an equally flawed slice of supernatural horror.
READ MORE: SHEPHERD
THE ADAM PROJECT (NETFLIX)
Film and TV Bites: The Adam Project is now streaming on Netflix.
There is more than a splash of 1980s family movie nostalgia in Shawn Levy’s new outing for Netflix, ‘The Adam Project.’ But, unlike many recent films that thrive purely on nostalgia as a narrative plot device, Levy’s movie combines the energy and visual charm of films such as D.A.R.Y.L and Flight of the Navigator with a modern and decidedly fresh time travel adventure. Ryan Reynolds swaggers with his usual tongue-in-cheek charm as Adam, a renegade pilot who crash-lands in 2022 after trying to save the world from irreparable damage due to the discovery of time travel. As Reynolds attempts to change history for the better, he is forced to team up with his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell) in a time-jumping adventure rich in heart, action and humour.
There is much to love in this tale of a boy and man haunted by the death of their father. However, the real standout has to be the young Walker Scobell, who announces his Hollywood arrival with a star-making performance that matches and often upstages Reynolds’ energy and charisma. Levy clearly understands the lack of science fiction movies currently aimed at a family audience. The Adam Project clearly seeks to fix that with a fun and engaging rollercoaster of time-travelling action that leaves you with a big 1980s-sized smile.
FILM AND TV BITES ARCHIVE
Margrete: Queen of the North (Rent or Buy)
Film and TV Bites: Margrete: Queen of the North is now available to stream, rent or buy.
Inspired by historical events set in 1402, Queen Margrete (Trine Dyrholm) presides over a peaceful union between Denmark, Norway, and Sweden – one forged through years of war, conflict and bloodshed. At her side sits the young King Erik (Morten Hee Andersen), an adopted son and heir following the death of her own son, Oluf. However, when a man appears, claiming to be her long-lost son and the rightful heir to the throne, the kingdom is thrown into intrigue and potential war.
Director Charlotte Sieling offers a lusciously crafted historical drama that echoes previous movies such as Elizabeth (1998). Here Queen Margrete is a woman caught in a man’s world, her power held delicately by a string as she battles the misogyny surrounding her. Like Blanchet’s Elizabeth, Dyrholm’s Margrete is a compelling and fascinating character, lovingly crafted. Meanwhile, discussions on the role of women in court life are beautifully realised, from the horrific marriage of young girls to older men long before they even reached puberty to the power men wielded in sexual relationships.
But unlike Elizabeth, Margrete: Queen of the North occasionally lacks energy and dynamism in its overarching story, with several threads left hanging. Here its two-hour runtime ultimately lacks the space to develop its characters and historical location fully. That aside, Sieling’s historical drama is delightful, if not groundbreaking, in its vision.
Bump (Short Film)
Film and TV Bites: Bump premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2022.
We all go about our lives surrounded by an invisible bubble, this protective shield follows us everywhere we go, and we choose who may or may not pierce its casing daily. However, when our bubble is threatened, we become uncomfortable and often insecure; for example, when we board a crowded tube train or get caught up in a scrum of people. Sometimes people accidentally threaten our bubble by getting too close to us when they talk or bumping into us on the street as they scroll through their mobile phones, oblivious to the world around them. Within the latter, Maziyar Khatam’s short film finds its voice as two men collide on a busy Toronto Street with explosive and uncertain consequences.
READ MORE: THERAPY DOGS
Filmed in a single shot from a fixed perspective, Khatam’s short film captures a single moment in time on a busy sidewalk where pedestrians walk by, unaware of the filming taking place. Nobody but our actors knows this is a staged event, as two young men collide with an accidental bump; however, far from apologising to each other, or laughing it off, as many would. These two men find their masculinity threatened by the presence of the other as the heat from the sidewalk rises. The result is a fascinating yet fleeting slice of street theatre that captures a single moment in time. Here a random collision leads to the penetration of each man’s delicate shield of masculinity. There are no answers or conclusions presented here, but the powerful yet brief discussions on position, community and belonging are expertly crafted.
See For Me (Rent or Buy)
Film and TV Bites: See for Me is now available to rent or buy.
The home invasion thriller is a staple of cinema and has been for decades. However, it’s fair to say it’s a mixed bag of mundane, electrifying, and downright awful movies. Therefore, I always approach a new home invasion thriller with a degree of scepticism. However, director Randall Okita’s, See for Me put to bed all my doubts within the first twenty minutes, as he updates the Audrey Hepburn 1967 classic Wait Until Dark.
As with many thrillers, the least said about the plot and its delicious twists, the better, hence the short review. But avoiding the detail of the home invasion itself, See for Me has several plot points that help to make it a truly compelling watch. First up is the fact that our protagonist, Sophie (Skyler Davenport), may be blind, but she is certainly not vulnerable. Sophie is strong, abrasive and ruthless; her character multi-faceted from the opening scenes. Secondly, Okita brilliantly explores the interface between disability, tech and independence as Sophie reluctantly seeks help from an app called ‘See for Me.’ And finally, the game of cat and mouse that ensues sees the mouse just as tenacious and ferocious as the cat.
READ MORE: MOTHERLY
These unique selling points are designed to throw the audience off-balance from the beginning, and they work in what is an otherwise standard thriller. Here director Randall Okita carefully turns up the dramatic tension as the night progresses, weaving in several twists that keep the tempo up and the audience engaged. The result is a nail-biting and entertaining movie. However, beneath this veneer, we are offered a largely predictable story arc that occasionally feels disappointingly simplistic, given the potential. But don’t let that put you off watching this cracking thriller because there is also a hell of a lot here to admire.
Archive 81 (Netflix)
Film and TV Bites: Archive 81 is streaming now on Netflix
Loosely based on a podcast of the same name, Netflix’s new occult/sci-fi horror is a game of two halves. Here the first four episodes of Archive 81 are engaging, fresh and decidedly creepy, while the final four disappear down a rabbit hole of the show’s own creation. Archive 81 is undoubtedly at its strongest when embracing the found-footage sub-genre and the slowly unravelling horror of its Rosemary’s Baby-inspired apartment block from hell.
However, Archive 81 quickly dispatches its most significant strengths as it attempts to pay homage to an ever-increasing number of classic horror movies and shows. Here, we find nods toward The Shining, Stranger Things, The Twilight Zone and more, as Archive 81 tries to embody every possible horror and cult movie cliché over its eight-hour runtime. And this brings me to the second major problem for Archive 81; its runtime. While there is plenty here to keep most viewers partially engaged, a least two episodes feel redundant and unneeded.
READ MORE: FOUND FOOTAGE
Archive 81 has moments of brilliance in the atmosphere it manages to create in an impressive opening four episodes. Equally, its cast, led by Mamoudou Athie and Dina Shihabi, manages to keep the viewer’s attention even when the screenplay begins to wobble and choke on its own mystery and complexity. However, when we compare Archive 81 to the bold and beautiful Midnight Mass, Archive 81 quickly loses its way due to its attempt to be all things to all people. In conclusion, Archive 81 may have moments of sheer brilliance in its opening episodes, but these moments never find a continuing voice as the story slowly gets lost in an ocean of competing ideas and themes.
King Car (Rent or Buy)
Film and TV Bites: King Car is now available to rent or buy.
Anyone expecting Renata Pinheiro’s ambitious slice of social fantasy and horror to emulate Stephen King’s Christine will undoubtedly be disappointed. Pinheiro’s complex and, at times, engaging vision is rooted in the social development of a changing Brazil more than classic fantasy or horror. The result will not be to everyone’s taste in a film that looks gorgeous and sounds beautiful yet ultimately weaves too many big and complex social discussions into its narrative. Here, King Car has moments of brilliance as it explores the interface between human creation, industry and nature, but these moments also feel slightly lost in a film that runs out of gas due to its own complexity. There is no questioning that Renata Pinheiro’s movie is bold, creative and different, but easy viewing it is not, which may lead many to tune out after the first thirty minutes.
READ MORE: CHRISTINE
Boiling Point (Curzon Home Cinema)
Film and TV Bites: Boiling Point is available to rent now on Curzon Home Cinema, Apple TV, and Amazon.
US President Harry S. Truman famously coined the phrase, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the Kitchen”. Of course, whether this originally came from Truman is another matter entirely, but watching director Philip Barantini’s brilliant one-shot drama Boiling Point, this phrase came to mind more than once. Following his short film of the same name in 2019, this feature-length one-shot wonder again features Stephen Graham as Andy, a head chef on the verge of personal and professional disaster in a busy London restaurant. However, by expanding the runtime from 22 minutes to 92 minutes, Barantini allows the drama to grow as we explore the pressures of the front-of-house team, the trappings of a business run on risk and the close working relationships a busy kitchen demands.
Barantini’s awe-inspiring one-shot drama carries a hot and electric pace that reflects the highs and lows of the service and hospitality sector. While at the same time allowing the audience to feel the oppressive heat of the night’s service. Here the cast is nothing short of outstanding, with Graham’s Andy and his sous-chef, Carly (Vinette Robinson), leading the way in an ocean of engaging and riveting performances. The result is a bold and brilliant cocktail of human drama that weaves together the personal journeys of each character into a tapestry of highs, lows, personal sacrifices and kitchen nightmares.
READ MORE: PIRATES
Free Fall (Short Film)
Film and TV Bites: The Oscar-qualifying Free Fall won the grand prize at The Festival Regard 2021 and Contis International Film Festival 2021.
Karl Liebknecht once said, “for capitalism, war and peace are business and nothing but business.” Liebknecht was, of course, correct; after all, we live in a society where money is made from everything and anything. Even human misery, tragedy and disaster are fair game in this world of greed, opportunity and wealth creation. When this reality is presented to us, we often find it uncomfortable, and it’s here that Free Fall excels. Adapted from the best-selling novel Swimming with Sharks by Joris Luyendijk and inspired by actual events, Emmanual Tenenbaum’s Free Fall explores the uncomfortable truth at the heart of our capitalist system; profit, greed, and wealth come before people, conscience and ethics.
READ MORE: INDUSTRY
When investment banker Tom arrives at work in London on the morning of 9/11, he has no idea of the tragedy about to unfold across the Atlantic. But as horrific reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Centre come in, Tom’s mind turns to the money that could be made if the event is not an accident as initially reported but an act of terror. With little thought for those trapped in the burning buildings, Tom encourages his boss to bet against the market. However, as the money flows in, Tom is about to receive a stark reminder of the human horror underway. Tenenbaum’s short film is an uncomfortable and powerful reminder of the power of greed and the absence of ethics.
JFK: Destiny Betrayed (SKY)
Film and TV Bites: JFK: Destiny Betrayed is showing now on SKY Documentaries.
Director Oliver Stone revisits his 1991 film JFK while exploring new evidence and new theories relating to the assassination of John F Kennedy in a riveting four-part series. By bringing new evidence to the table surrounding the president’s death, Stones’ documentary is a fascinating exposé, the most interesting analysis sitting within the cold war politics of early 60s America. Yet, for all its detail, the questions raised remain unanswered and possibly always will. However, that does not mean the search for the truth shouldn’t continue, and Stone’s series certainly leaves no stone unturned in this quest.
READ MORE: US KIDS
Film and TV Bites: VAL is showing now on SKY Documentaries.
Kilmer’s deeply personal and, at times, highly emotional documentary is a fascinating journey into fame, creativity and personal struggle. Viewed through Kilmer’s private collection of home movies, VAL follows the highs and lows of fame and the complexities of the Hollywood system. The resulting documentary offers us a personal reflection of a career of both success and failure as Kilmer unpicks his role and legacy while celebrating his love of art, performance and film. However, this is the world from Val’s perspective, and while beautiful and sincere, it does, at times, feel too glossy for its own good.
READ MORE: SHOWBIZ KIDS
Dinner in America (Arrow)
Film and TV Bites: Dinner in America is now showing on Arrow
What do you get when you mix elements of Welcome to the Dollhouse with Heathers and Napolean Dynamite? The answer is the delightfully sharp, endlessly entertaining and surprisingly tender Dinner in America. Here, director and screenwriter Adam Carter Rehmeier not only dissects the modern American family but explores themes of difference, acceptance and connection. His punk rock drama weaves richly dark humour, coming-of-age themes and transformation into an inspired indie masterpiece. Sitting at the heart of this near-perfect movie is the exquisite performances of Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs; trust me when I say this is not only one of the best movies to have premiered at Sundance 2020 but also one of the best of the year; the words cult classic written into its very DNA.
READ MORE: HEATHERS
TITANS: Season Three (Netflix)
Film and TV Bites: TITANS is showing now on Netflix.
Following hot on the heels of the equally dark and underrated Gotham, Titans finally reinvented the comic book ensemble for the small screen; of course, Titans had also appeared in countless animated films and the kids-orientated Teen Titans Go! But the TV series offered us a more adult world that felt like a continuation of Gotham. Now hitting its stride in its third season with a dark and unique take on Death in the Family and The Red Hood, this dark, brooding, and violent slice of comic book entertainment has finally laid the 1960s comedic Robin to rest. But, there are problems in this third adventure, and they lay in an over-reliance on Gotham’s world. However, that does not distract from the cinematic beauty on display or the action. Let’s just hope season four stretches its wings beyond Batman’s world.
READ MORE: SUPERMAN AND LOIS
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Batman: The Long Halloween Part One and Two
Batman: The Long Halloween Part One is available to rent or buy.
Wrapping us in a world of gang crime, mob politics and murder, The Long Halloween is undoubtedly one of the best-known and most loved Batman stories. Therefore, as with previous high-profile adaptations, Warner Animation has sensibly split the story into two parts for its premiere. While part one of The Long Halloween occasionally lacks space and time in demonstrating the complexity of the comic book series, Part Two more than makes up for the slightly slow start, with both parts beautiful and engaging when watched back to back. Here, the crime noir of the comic book series and the fading art-deco beauty of Gotham shine alongside the richly detailed characters. The result is another superb animated DC adventure from Warner Bros – one that honours the source material while injecting its own unique style.
The Boy Behind the Door (Shudder)
Film and TV Bites: The Boy Behind the Door is playing now on Shudder.
Any mainstream horror that chooses child abduction and abuse as its main story walks a fine line. After all, how do you couple the true horror of child abuse and kidnapping with classic horror scares without becoming distasteful in the process? Many films over the years have fallen foul of this balance, for example, The Girl Next Door. However, The Boy Behind the Door navigates this fine line with skill, even if the film’s final act sadly resorts to a more traditional horror template. But, the ending aside, there is much to admire in David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s claustrophobic horror-thriller, including the performances of its young leads.
The opening half of Charbonier and Powell’s film is full of tension as it creates a genuinely uncomfortable atmosphere that is only intensified by the lack of information at our disposal. However, within its final act, The Boy Behind the Door stumbles as it adopts a cat-and-mouse slasher aesthetic that avoids the significant issues raised earlier. Mores the pity because while this may offer the film an easy route out, it ultimately feels evasive. Here, the darkness of the topic is finally too tricky to navigate as the directors try to find an acceptable conclusion.
How to Deter a Robber (Rent or Buy)
Film and TV Bites: How to Deter a Robber is now available to rent or buy.
It’s Christmas Eve, and Madison (Vanessa Marano) and her accident-prone boyfriend, Jimmy (Benjamin Papac) are spending their holiday with family in a lakeside cabin. However, between the family arguments, isolation and a rather disappointing Christmas meal, the young couple’s stay is hardly going to plan. But, when Madison and Jimmy spot some unusual activity at the neighbour’s house, they decide to investigate. After all, the neighbours are away, right?
Despite its festive potential, Maria Bissell’s feature debut ultimately whittles away any of its initial promise with an overly convoluted story that leads to nothing but a dead-end. The comedy is lacklustre, the staging erratic, and the characters bland. And while the cast attempt to do their best with the material on offer, the result is nothing short of disappointing – its only saving grace is some assured cinematography and an engaging score.
The Return (Rent or Buy)
Film and TV Bites: The Return is now available to rent or buy.
We all love a haunted house movie, right? But, with so many on offer, the quality of these varies as directors seek to offer something new. On the face of it, BJ Vernot’s new movie would appear to fall directly into the traditional haunted house sub-genre. After all, here we have a young man, Roger (Richard Harmon), returning to his family home following the sudden death of his father. Here Roger is greeted by a mysterious apparition that emanates from the walls and an ocean of repressed memories. However, BJ Vernot’s film is not what it initially appears to be, as it slowly builds tension before throwing us a curveball of epic proportions. Much like the recent Ghosts of War, The Return is a sci-fi thriller as much as it is a supernatural tale.
Now, I am not about to ruin the twists The Return brings us in what is primarily an entertaining and solid slice of sci-fi/horror. However, as with all films that attempt to transcend genre boundaries, there are also problems within the final two acts of BJ Vernot’s movie. First, many will have guessed the narrative trajectory long before the twist. Second, the use of a Ghostbuster’s style device is plainly ridiculous. And finally, we have the death of a prominent character that seems to cause little upset. However, there is also much to admire and enjoy despite these three flaws.
High Ground (Rent or Buy)
Film and TV Bites: High Ground is now available to rent or buy.
Over recent years Australia has begun to explore its colonial roots on film with urgency, unpicking what colonialism meant and continues to mean for a relatively young nation with a complex history. These movies have included Jennifer Kent’s outstanding The Nightingale, Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence and Warwick Thornton’s stunning Sweet Country. However, High Ground’s exploration of imperialism, genocide and cultural appropriation finds its voice within the confines of a John Fordesqe western. Here its opening scenes are brutal as we follow Gutjuk (Guruwuk Mununggurr) as he is taken into the care of a local mission following the slaughter of his family. Here, High Ground’s tale of violence and an ever-repeating cycle of destruction are both sincere, urgent and essential viewing.
While it may not find the devastating voice of some of its predecessors, High Ground asks us to reflect on the beliefs and actions behind colonialism and the individual’s place in its ongoing legacy. While at the same time never shying away from the brutal ideas of superiority that led to the enslavement and murder of indigenous communities.
Vicious Fun (Shudder)
Film and TV Bites: Vicious Fun is streaming now on Shudder.
Canada has a long and illustrious history as the home of some of the best horrors of the past 50 years. After all, it is the country that brought us Scanners and Black Christmas, to name just a few. But Canada is also renowned for bringing us superb and creative horror/comedies. These films challenge the genre and redefine what horror can be, from Turbo Kid to Dead Shack and PG Gorman.
Director Cody Calahan’s Vicious Fun mixes elements of the classic Canadian slasher with a tongue-in-cheek 80s-inspired screenplay. The result is a film that is exactly what it promises to be… Vicious Fun. Here, themes last seen in Shudder’s underrated Monster Party find a far more humorous voice wrapped neatly in a bloody bow of 80s nostalgia. And while a few jokes fall flat, it more than makes up for them with gore, charm and creativity.
Luca (Disney +)
Film and TV Bites: Luca is streaming now on Disney +
After serving as a story artist for Coco and Ratatouille, Enrico Casarosa finally takes to the director’s chair with his first feature, Luca – a delightful, engaging and colourful exploration of friendship, pasta, vespers and diversity. Here each beautifully animated scene is bathed in the sunshine and sea air of the Italian coast as we meet two young sea monsters, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). Their newfound friendship, coupled with a daring exploration of the human world above their ocean home.
Casarosa, Andrews and Stephenson’s story takes the saying “A fish out of water” and layers it with a delicate exploration of identity, discrimination, acceptance and love. And while the story may follow a similar narrative arc to many of Pixar’s previous outings, Luca feels delightfully different. Here the film’s beauty and characters are a love letter to Italian culture and filmmaking. Meanwhile, the voice performances of Tremblay and Grazer fill every scene with warmth and honesty – their magical sea creatures in boy’s clothing both believable, heartwarming and joyous.
READ MORE: ONWARD
The God Committee (Rent or Buy)
Film and TV Bites: The God Committee is available to rent or buy now.
Austin Stark’s adaptation of Mark St. Germain’s play about a group of doctors tasked with deciding who should receive a heart transplant is both striking and deeply frustrating. Its narrative flits between two stories; one is strong, engaging and urgent, while the other is melodramatic and ultimately unneeded. The first story explores the politics of the so-called God Committee, a group of doctors who decide who should live or die when an organ donation arrives at the hospital. Meanwhile, the second focuses on the relationship between Dr Boxer (Grammer) and Dr Taylor (Stiles). Here The God Committee falls into simplistic medical melodrama.
When exploring themes of ethics and fairness around the boardroom table, the lives of patients held in the hands of a small group, The God Committee, is engaging, fascinating and scary. But, when exploring the relationship between Boxer and Taylor, The God Committee undoes its most significant asset in a film of two halves that only ever needed one.
My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
Film and TV Bites: My Octopus Teacher is streaming now on Netflix.
What makes us human? And how does our relationship with nature impact our sense of humanity? In a pandemic world, these questions are even more urgent. And as our Earth suffers daily from the damage we have inflicted over generations, our relationship with nature has never needed to change more than now. However, can a single documentary encourage and inspire this change? The answer is simple, yes! From David Attenborough to Apple TVs, The Year Earth Changed, documentaries not only bring the natural world into our living room but encourage us to learn and grow. However, many still view these works from a perspective of human dominance—the human in control as we peek into the lives of our luscious animal kingdom. But what if another creature equalled our intelligence? Our view of nature, built on equity rather than control?
My Octopus Teacher asks this very question as the bond between one man, and a wild cephalopod takes centre stage. The journey we take is emotional, unique and urgent as we reflect on our place in a world of so many wonders. While at the same time considering how our responsibilities to nature and life must change to a relationship of partnership and equity.
Dream Horse (Rent or Buy)
Film and TV Bites: Dream Horse is now available to rent or buy.
Sixteen months ago, I sat in a screening room at Warner Brothers in London. The film was Dream Horse; the planned release date was April 2020. Of course, this was never to be, as COVID-19 trampled all over the release schedules studios had planned. But now Dream Horse is finally ready to run, and in my opinion, you won’t find a better feel-good movie as spring turns to summer and lockdown eases. Here, director Euros Lyn laces the humour of The Full Monty with the community spirit and passion of Brassed Off and Pride in creating a delightful underdog story that shines with sincerity. The resulting film is a joyous crowd-pleaser that celebrates community, individuality and an unshakable belief in luck.
Based on the true story of Jan Vokes (Toni Collette), a bartender in a depressed Welsh town. Dream Horse recounts the stranger-than-fiction story of Dream Alliance, a racehorse trained by Jan, her husband Brian (Owen Teale), and their business partner Howard (Damian Lewis). But, this partnership is not rooted in wealth or privilege. Instead, Dream Alliance is raised on the local allotment, its upkeep part of a community ownership model. Here, the cost of his training is spread out among interested townsfolk, with many of them scrimping and scraping together the £10 a month needed in the hope of a big win at the races.
Of course, the film’s finale is clear from the outset in a movie that wears its heart on its sleeve. But, despite the predictable journey, Euro Lyn’s film remains engaging and heartwarming from start to finish. The dreams of a rundown community, moving from a slow trot to an energetic canter and award-winning gallop. But, what truly makes Dream Horse leap from the screen are the performances of a fantastic ensemble cast. And as a result, what is primarily a paint-by-numbers feel-good movie becomes something more. A story of hope, togetherness and belief. And that is a story never more needed than now.
Great White (Rent or Buy)
Film and TV Bites: Great White is available to rent or buy from May 17th.
Summer is on the way, and our beaches will soon be filled with eager swimmers, sunbathers and kids building sandcastles. So, what better way to celebrate than with a classic shark attack movie that will have you fearing every ripple as you enter the sea? However, how do you compete with or even try to surpass Jaws in scale, fear and artistry? With every new shark movie that comes along, I carry a faint hope that one may find something new, unique and engaging; a modern take on Spielberg’s classic. But, just like many of its predecessors, Great White is unable to keep its head above water.
Martin Wilson’s directorial debut is not the worse shark movie ever made, but it’s also far from being the best. And while it carries brief moments of tension, the overriding feeling is one of boredom. In fact, I found myself cheering on the shark, hoping that it would munch through the cast as quickly as possible. Its characters are simple, one-dimensional, uninteresting and predictable as it struggles to find a defining hook to the action on screen. Here Great White bounces from an all too brief discussion on climate change to a simple stranded-in-the-ocean thriller. I have no doubt Great White will find an audience in those seeking simple Saturday night entertainment, but for those seeking a good scare, it will undoubtedly disappoint. My advice, stick with Speilberg’s Jaws; after all, at least his Great White story had teeth.
Film and TV Bites: SLAXX is now available to stream on Shudder.
How many times have you entered a clothes shop and heard someone utter the immortal words “That’s to die for”? I am guessing it’s more than once; of course, many of our modern clothes are indeed to die for. Our obsessive love of cheap, disposable fashion fuelling sweatshops in developing countries. While at the same time, expensive luxury goods are made by children in the far east. So just for a moment, imagine if those jeans calling to you from a glossy advert were, in fact, killers, their fabric soaked in blood from the moment they were born; an unquenchable thirst for revenge developing as they sit piled up in a shop window. If you can imagine that, then SLAXX is the comedy/horror for you.
Here at Cinerama Film, we are huge fans of Canadian horror, from Dead Shack to Turbo Kid. And with SLAXX, our Canadian cousins have once again knocked the ball out of the park. Its humour and gore are laced with an in-depth commentary on consumerism and greed. While simultaneously dissecting how companies lie about environmental credentials in gaining new customers. And just like Strickland’s In Fabric and Dupieux’s Deerskin, SLAXX will go on to become a killer clothes cult classic.
Lost at Christmas (rent or buy)
Film and TV Bites: Lost at Christmas is available to rent or buy.
Based on his 2015 short film, Perfect Strangers, director Ryan Hendrick takes us on a festive journey into the Scottish Highlands with his new rom-com. Here the director’s love of Doctor Who shines through, with Sylvester McCoy, Frazer Hines and Caitlin Blackwood (the young Amelia Pond) all making an appearance; the snowbound ClacHaig Inn a low-key Doctor Who convention.
However, despite holding the warmth of scotch whisky, Lost at Christmas bounces wildly from sickly sweet Yuletide romance to a more interesting exploration of loneliness. Here the opening is far too slow in establishing its core characters. While in contrast, the final half whizzes by as the narrative finally finds some festive warmth. But while it may not offer anything unique and may trip up in several places, Lost at Christmas does carry a delicate charm, so pull up a chair and pour yourself a whisky because while it may be cold outside, there’s warmth in the ClacHaig Inn.
HAM: A Musical Memoir
Film and TV Bites: HAM: A Musical Memoir is available to buy.
Based on his 2014 autobiography HAM: Slices of a Life, broadway star Sam Harris brings his collection of personal essays to the stage in a delightful, funny and touching one-person show. Here his journey from the Bible Belt of Oklahoma to the broadway stage is full of colour, heartfelt emotion and glitter, exploring themes of self-acceptance, oppression and escape. While British audiences may not know who Sam Harris is, that does not distract from the sheer talent on display in his one-person show. Here his story is full of electricity, emotion and joy in a honey-glazed show that shines.
My Dead Ones (rent or buy)
Film and TV Bites: My Dead Ones is available to rent or buy.
With a captivating central performance from Nicolas Prattes as the damaged and psychologically disturbed young David, My Dead Ones attempts to provide us with a rich exploration of fractured reality and voyeurism. Here director Diego Freitas weaves his tale of horror from the perspective of a damaged yet equally vulnerable young man, his worldview unreliable, chaotic and fragmented. However, despite moments of dream-like psychological terror, My Dead Ones quickly becomes a convoluted maze of twists and turns that loses our interest. Here the fascinating themes of belonging, bullying and escape are quickly lost as the narrative descends into introspection. While Hitchcock-inspired discussions on fractured sexuality are sadly left hanging.
Concrete Plans (rent or buy)
Film and TV Bites: Concrete Plans is available to rent or buy.
Concrete Plans never finds a firm foundation despite its solid cast, its weak plot built on muddy ground as a group of cash-in-hand Welsh builders unexpectedly become cold-blooded killers. Here our motley crew’s descent into darkness is a result of financial disputes with an ex-military landowner who treats them with disdain. But all is not as it first appears, as the financial disagreements mount and the builders learn that the luxury around them may well be a mirage. Concrete Plans excels in exploring a range of social issues, from racism to Brexit and employment, but it also fails to find a unique voice. However, that does not mean that there are no glimmers of what could have been in the story that ensues and given more time and character development.