REWIND – Quick Read Reviews from the archives.
REWIND – QUICK READ AND DOUBLE BILLS FROM THE ARCHIVES
THE FENCE (2022)
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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; it’s a love letter to friendship, brotherhood and community that shines through the performances of its young cast. 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.
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SANTA CLAUS: THE SERIAL KILLER (2022)
Mobeen Azhar’s documentary follows in the footsteps of CBC’s Murder in the Village (2017) and Catching a Serial Killer: Bruce McArthur (2021); as a result, it struggles to offer anything new to the evidence base surrounding McArthur’s crimes. Azhar explores the lacklustre Police response to the disappearances while also asking us to reflect on the racial dimension of McArthur’s crimes. But at its heart, Azhar’s documentary explores the cultural barriers of a closed gay community and the fact that any community holds secrets and vulnerabilities that residents would rather not face. There are clear parallels between the Stephen Port case here in the UK and the Bruce McArthur case in Toronto. Here, while Azhar’s investigation is interesting and informative, it never quite manages to tease out these similarities, resulting in a missed opportunity to explore Police failures and hidden community concerns. The result is a documentary that occasionally feels overly simplistic in its investigative framework.
FRIGHTFEST BITES 2022: QUICK READ REVIEWS
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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 TikTok. 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 are 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. 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 whom 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 TikTok.
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NIGHT’S END (2021)
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.
SEE FOR ME (2021)
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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 less 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, our protagonist, Sophie (Skyler Davenport), may be blind, but she is certainly not vulnerable; she is strong, abrasive, ruthless and multi-faceted. Second, Okita brilliantly explores the interface between disability, tech and independence as Sophie reluctantly seeks help from an app called ‘See for Me,’ and third, the game of cat and mouse that ensues sees the mouse just as tenacious and ferocious as the cat. 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 that occasionally falls into predictability but remains fascinating and tense nonetheless.
Bump premiered at the 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.
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.
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GIVE OR TAKE (2021)
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Martin (Jamie Effros) has just returned to his hometown in Cape Cod following the death of his estranged father. It is immediately apparent that the father and son drifted apart following the death of Martin’s mother, an event that led Martin’s father to finally come out as gay and move in with his life partner, Ted (Norbert Leo Butz). But as the tensions rise between Ted and Martin due to the sale of the house, an unexpected opportunity for healing comes into view. Give or Take is beautifully performed and engaging throughout, with some standout moments of emotion and humour as the ice between Ted and Martin slowly thaws. However, the conflict between Martin and Ted also feels underexplored. Here, Give or Take skirts the broader issues of homophobia, acceptance and coming out in later life that could have elevated it to brilliance.
FOUR LIVES (2021)
Over sixteen months during 2014 and 2015, Stephen Port murdered four gay/bi young men, Anthony Walgate, Gabriel Kovari, Daniel Whitworth, and Jack Taylor. These vibrant, energetic and loving young men were connected by their use of gay dating apps (most notably Grindr) and by the nature of their death and discovery. However, despite the clear links between each murder and ongoing interest in Port, justice and safety were denied by an incompetent, lacklustre and homophobic investigation by Barking and Dagenham Police. Here, Police failures almost certainly led to the deaths of three of the young men following the discovery of Port’s first victim, Anthony. Four Lives methodically unpicks the countless police failures at play while demonstrating the pain family and friends were put through as they were forced to become investigators in their own right. But even more importantly, Four Lives focuses on the lives of Port’s young victims and the fight of their family and friends to uncover the truth about their murders. The result is an emotional, heart-wrenching and urgent drama that places institutional homophobia in our police service under the spotlight for all to see.
ARCHIVE 81 (NETFLIX)
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, at least two episodes feel redundant and unneeded.
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.
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I AM SYD STONE
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Denis Theriault’s 2014 short film of the same name was expanded into a six-part web series called I Am Syd Stone in 2020 and is now pulled together into a feature-length movie. However, as with many web series converted into feature-length films, I Am Syd Stone struggles to maintain its pace and loses the interest of its audience early on in the narrative. Of course, that’s not to say there are not some fascinating themes wrapped up in Theriault’s story of a closeted Hollywood star searching for inner peace and public acceptance. But unfortunately, I Am Syd Stone never rises above the soap-opera-inspired melodrama at its core. The resulting film offers few deep or meaningful performances and lacks an urgently needed back story. Some may find just enough interest to see the movie through to the end, but others will find themselves tuning out after the first 35 minutes.
KING CAR (RENT OR BUY)
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.
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.
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FREE FALL (SHORT)
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 correct. We live in a society where money is made from everything and anything, even human misery, tragedy and disaster. Adapted from the best-selling novel Swimming with Sharks by Joris Luyendijk and inspired by actual events, Emmanual Tenenbaum’s Free Fall explores an uncomfortable truth at the heart of our capitalist system: profit, greed, and wealth come before people or ethics. 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.
DINNER IN AMERICA (ARROW)
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 that year.
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)
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.
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THE LAST BLOCKBUSTER
The Last Blockbuster is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV
For many late 80s teens, Friday nights were marked by a religious trip to the local Blockbuster Video. There, in the safety and warmth of blue and yellow walls, they would spend hours trawling through the shelves looking for a hidden gem to watch with friends. Blockbuster is long gone; only the memories of all those VHS tapes, late fees and post-bin drop-offs remain. But in the US, one store remains open. But can the video rental business really survive our new world of instant access entertainment? The answer to that question lies in the opening of my short review, our love of nostalgia.
ROBIN’S WISH (2021)
Robin’s Wish is available on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV now
Following the sad death of Robin Williams in 2014, the press descended, ripe with speculation over his suicide. The following days, weeks and months were full of stories about substance abuse and apparent depression. However, the truth behind his death was far more heart-wrenching and far more critical. Robin had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease not long before his death but had also been struggling silently with the effects of Lewy body dementia, even though it was undiagnosed by doctors. Robin’s Wish not only explores the devastating effects this disease wreaked on his life toward the end but also highlights the need for more research and better diagnosis of this horrendous disease.
HOW TO DETER A ROBBER (2021)
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 squanders 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 attempts 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 (2021)
The Return is now available to rent or buy.
We all love a haunted house movie, right? On the first appearance, BJ Vernot’s new film would appear to fall directly into the traditional haunted house genre. After all, here we have a young man, Roger (Richard Harmon), returning to his family home following the sudden death of his father, where he is greeted by a mysterious apparition that emanates from the walls. However, BJ Vernot’s film is not what it initially appears to be, as it throws us a curveball of epic proportions. Much like the recent Ghosts of War, The Return is a sci-fi thriller in supernatural clothing. I am not about to ruin the twists, but as with many films that attempt to transcend genre boundaries, there are a few big problems. The first of these is that many people will have guessed the twist long before it’s revealed, and the second sees the final act descend into farce. However, despite these three flaws, there is much to admire and enjoy, and The Return is creative and engaging, if not perfect.
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HIGH GROUND (2021)
High Ground is now available to rent or buy.
Australia’s complex, violent and colonial history has been reflected through several influential films over the years, from Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale to Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence and Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country. High Ground never quite matches the power of these films through its exploration of imperialism, genocide, and cultural appropriation in a John Ford Western style. But that doesn’t mean High Ground does not contain moments of brutal honesty as we follow Gutjuk (Guruwuk Mununggurr), a young indigenous boy taken into the care of a mission following the slaughter of his family. Through Gutjuk’s journey, High Ground asks us to reflect on the ongoing horror of colonialism and its horrific legacy of superiority, enslavement and genocide.
VICIOUS FUN (2021)
Vicious Fun is streaming now on Shudder.
Canada has a long history of great horror, from Scanners to Black Christmas. Canadian horrors have long challenged the boundaries of the horror genre and redefined what is and can be; Director Cody Calahan’s Vicious Fun continues this trend by mixing classic slasher horror with tongue-in-cheek 80s-inspired humour. The result is a film that delivers exactly what it promises – Vicious Fun. Taking themes last seen in Shudder’s underrated Monster Party, but lacing them with delicious humour, wrapped up neatly in a bloody bow of 80s nostalgia, Vicious Fun is a great late-night horror/comedy full of gore and charm.
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. 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. While it may follow a similar narrative arc to many of Pixar’s previous outings, Luca feels delightfully different, 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 are believable, heartwarming and utterly joyous.
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THE GOD COMMITTEE (2021)
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 striking and deeply frustrating. Its narrative sits uncomfortably between two stories. One story hums with strength and urgency, while the other is melodramatic and 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 a hospital. Meanwhile, the second focuses on the relationship between Dr Boxer (Kelsey Grammer) and Dr Taylor (Julia Stiles). Within this second melodramatic act, The God Committee falls into the classic tropes of the daytime soap opera. However, when The God Committee explores the ethical issues of private health funding, insurance and research, it finds a fascinating and urgent voice.
MY OCTOPUS TEACHER (2021)
My Octopus Teacher is streaming now on Netflix.
What makes us human? And how does our relationship with nature impact our sense of humanity? 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 amazing 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 (2020)
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, and 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 our lockdowns ease. 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 celebrates 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; the cost of his training is spread out among interested townsfolk through £10 a month donations.
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. As a result, what is primarily a paint-by-numbers feel-good movie becomes something more – a story of hope, togetherness and belief.
GREAT WHITE (2021)
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 wave as you enter the sea? However, how do you compete with or even try to surpass the legendary Jaws? Like many of its predecessors, Great White fails to offer us anything new, and as a result, it is unable to keep its head above water. Martin Wilson’s directorial debut is not the worst shark movie ever made, but it is also hundreds of nautical miles from the best. Personally, I found myself cheering on the shark, hoping that it would munch through the one-dimensional cast as quickly as possible. Great White bounces from an all too brief discussion on climate change to a simple stranded-in-the-ocean thriller as it attempts to create a memorable eco-thriller, and while I have no doubt it will find a Saturday night audience, most will find themselves asleep by the finale. My advice is simple: stick with Speilberg’s Jaws; at least it had teeth.
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Viggo Mortenson’s long overdue directorial debut offers us a complex and emotional story of care, pain, love and regret. His powerful screenplay delicately unpicks the realities of dementia as it tears through one family’s life, further fracturing the relationships between a son, daughter, and father. Willis (Lance Henrikson) has spent his life on a farm in upstate New York. His first marriage failed, followed by a second that would also fall foul of his temper and suspicion. Willis’ children were caught in the middle of his marital turmoil as they grew into adults. Yet, both John (Viggo Mortenson) and his sister Sarah stayed by his side despite his volatility. However, as Willis slowly succumbs to dementia, it’s John who picks up the burden of his care. Here, John’s life as a gay man in a loving marriage with a young daughter suffers from his father’s relentless homophobia as he tries to encourage his dad to move from the family farm. But how do you care for a man unwilling to accept support?
Falling is strongest when exploring the challenges of care in families torn apart by a history of intolerance. Here, its exploration of turbulent father/son dynamics is both assured and emotional as unspoken regrets, hidden love and years of pain bubble to the surface. Henrikson (Willis) steals each scene with a character study of a man who is contemptuous and arrogant yet scared. While Mortenson’s ‘John’ pushes his own anger and pain to one side in a desperate attempt to show love and compassion. Falling never attempts to paint its characters with simple brushstrokes. Instead, it focuses on the small, intricate events that build a life and the pain and trauma dementia causes as those events are stripped away one by one.
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SLAXX is now available to stream on Shudder.
How many times have you entered a clothes shop and heard someone say, “That’s to die for”? Many of our modern clothes are indeed to die for as disposable fashion fuels global sweatshops and child labour. So imagine if those jeans calling to you from a glossy advert were soaked in the blood of the farmers, kids and workers who made them and, as a result, developed a supernatural thirst for revenge. I love Canadian horror, from Dead Shack to Turbo Kid, and with SLAXX, our Canadian cousins have once again knocked the ball out of the park. Laced with delightfully dark humour and soft gore, SLAXX joyously unpicks consumerism. Like Strickland’s In Fabric and Dupieux’s Deerskin, SLAXX is a killer clothes cult classic.
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LOST AT CHRISTMAS (2020)
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, and from the opening scenes, the director’s love of Doctor Who shines through. From Sylvester McCoy to Frazer Hines and Caitlin Blackwood (the young Amelia Pond), the snowbound ClacHaig Inn often feels like a strange pub-bound Doctor Who convention. While Lost at Christmas never quite finds its voice as it meanders through the snow, it is as warm as a rich Highland whisky. There’s a delicate charm at play here, so pull up a chair and pour yourself a drink because while it may be cold outside, there’s warmth aplenty in the ClacHaig Inn.
HAM: A MUSICAL MEMOIR (2020)
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 Sam Harris as well as our US cousins, that does not distract from the sheer talent of his one-person show or the electricity, emotion and joy on display in this honey-glazed and sweet slice of theatre.
MY DEAD ONES (2020)
My Dead Ones is available to rent or buy.
Central to director Diego Freitas’ ambitious movie is a captivating central performance from Nicolas Prattes as David; it’s a performance you don’t easily forget but equally feels let down by the over-ambition of the narrative. Freitas’ risk-taking is to be admired as he attempts to offer us a detailed exploration of fractured reality, internal divide and voyeurism through the eyes of a vulnerable young man whose worldview is unreliable and chaotic. However, despite brief moments of Hitchcock-inspired psychological terror, My Dead Ones quickly enters a maze it sadly can’t escape.
CONCRETE PLANS (2020)
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.
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VISIBLE: OUT ON TELEVISION (2020)
As we mark LGBT+ History Month in the United Kingdom, Apple TV Plus explores US television and queer representation in Visible: Out On Television. While this is a US exploration that differs significantly from the UK journey, there are links to the British experience as we are taken from the days when homosexuality was viewed with disdain to the first flawed steps in representation. The ‘Visible’ journey starts in the 1960s with the Army–McCarthy hearings, where state obsession with communism and the enemy within encouraged institutionalised oppression throughout American society. Here, we explore the hidden LGBTQ+ figures of television who gently attempted to push the boundaries and challenge public perception. However, it is not until the 1970s, with shows like All in the Family and the groundbreaking An American Family, that LGBTQ+ lives appear on mainstream TV. As we steer into the 80s and 90s with One Life to Live, The Golden Girls and Will and Grace, Visible offers a nuanced exploration of their impact in paving the way for modern dramas such as Ryan Murphy’s Pose.
Featuring a wealth of conversations with LGBTQ+ celebrities and straight allies, ranging from Ellen DeGeneres to Armistead Maupin, Caitlyn Jenner, Ryan Phillippe, and Oprah Winfrey, the interviews and stories hold deep emotional resonance. From the bravery of actor Wilson Cruz, who came out before his role in the groundbreaking My So-Called Life, to the discussions on gender identity and the 50s story of Christine Jorgensen, these are the foundation stones of LGBTQ+ equality on screen in the US. Visible is a documentary made with the utmost love and respect for all who have fought to ensure representation, never dismissing just how hard the battle has been or the challenges still at play. For this reason, among many others, Visible: Out On Television is essential viewing this LGBT+ History Month.
I AM NOT OKAY WITH THIS (2020)
What do you get when you cross John Hughes with Carrie and add a splash of Stranger Things? The answer might be found in the new Netflix comic book drama I Am Not Okay With This, a deliciously dark comic book adaptation from the same universe as The End of the F***ing World. Here, we find the story of a teenage girl struggling with grief, awkwardness, acne, emerging sexuality, and some troublesome latent superpowers. The result is one of the most engaging comic book adaptations of recent years, split into a series of seven 25-minute episodes.
Still reeling from her father’s suicide, Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis) is not exactly living the teen dream as she battles with her recent relocation to a small town, arguments with her mum and a best friend, Dina (Sofia Bryant), who may be something more. Meanwhile, Sydney’s weed-smoking geeky neighbour (Wyatt Oleff) happens to fancy the hell out of her. But the cherry on top of all this teen angst is her emerging telekinetic powers, over which she has little control.
There is nothing new in the notion of superpowers interfacing with puberty; it’s a mainstay of the comic book origin story. But it’s rare to see these stories placed into the hands of a teenage girl and even more rare to find them dovetailed with the coming out process. Here I Am Not Okay With This feels fresh, new and sharp in an ocean of competing titles, helped enormously by the casting of Sophie Lillis and Wyatt Oleff, who last appeared together in IT Chapters One and Two.
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SAINT FRANCES (2020)
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While Alex Thompson’s debut feature film Saint Frances may, at first sight, appear to be a standard thirty-something tale of disillusionment, his delightful film never falls into the usual comedy/drama tropes. Instead, Thompson offers us a comedy that bravely dissects modern neoconservative beliefs, allowing Saint Frances to walk a different road from any similar films. Like many people in their mid-thirties, Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) finds herself caught between a disappearing youth and the need to find something new. The adventure and excitement of her twenties is now fading, with her work offering little to no stimulation. Meanwhile, her relationships remain trapped in a strange student haze. However, Bridget sees a potential escape in the form of a summer job as a nanny to five-year-old Frances (Ramona Edith Williams) while Frances’ two mums, Maya (Charin Alvarez) and Annie (Lily Mojekwu), deal with the stresses and strains of a newborn baby. However, far from being a walk in the park, Bridget’s life, ideas and future path will come into sharp focus.
There is a raw honesty on display in Saint Frances, one that isn’t afraid to push controversial buttons in generating conversation while allowing the viewer to freely search and question their feelings for Bridget and her actions. Saint Frances reflects the challenging decisions we all face in our lives, many of which others will find disagreeable, taking us from laugh-out-loud comedy to emotion in a fascinating and detailed character study of a woman searching for something new.
JONATHAN AGASSI SAVED MY LIFE (2019)
Tomer Heymann is undoubtedly one of the brightest documentary filmmakers in the industry; however, his latest work feels his most personal. Eight years in the making, Heymann’s Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life explores the life of the porn superstar Jonathan Agassi with a profoundly personal fly-on-the-wall aesthetic. In Heymann’s daring doc, we are offered a commentary on the demons of the porn industry, the love of family and the personal traumas of a man living through a created persona. From the outset, Heymann has no intention of muting or censoring the porn life of his muse, as we are offered a filter-free exploration of a life lived in the porn industry. Here, we are given a detailed snapshot of an industry built on money, fantasy and image as Agassi bravely puts himself, his family and his insecurities in front of the camera. But it is within the split persona of Agassi that Heymann’s delicate yet striking documentary truly finds its voice as we witness the divide between private and public that slowly eats away at a porn megastar.
Heymann navigates the ethical issues of filming Agassi with a delicate and sensitive touch, never shying away from asking tough questions while offering Agassi time to explore his own thoughts. The result is a heartfelt exploration of the light and dark of a porn industry built on sexual fantasies and the long-term effects of living a double life.
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Gregor Schmidinger’s debut feature Nevrland, provides us with a complex and intoxicating mix of themes. Its narrative takes us from modern masculinity to mental health and sexuality. While at the same time taking us on a journey from adolescence to adulthood. Nevrland cleverly plays with themes of family, suppressed desire and fantasy through Jakob’s journey (Simon Frühwirth) while never allowing for simple answers. Schmidinger’s film is at its most fascinating when exploring mental health, desire and self-identity—using a kaleidoscope of powerful imagery to convey the inner turmoil and conflict of teenage life. Here, Schmidinger confidently and artistically uses his CinemaScope vista and dynamic sound to create an inner world of adolescent thoughts, from dream-like feelings of fear to urgent desire. The result is a film that burns with energy and colour, providing a fascinating and intoxicating mix of desire, anxiety and escape in what can only be described as a truly unique vision of the human mind.
One of the standout films at the 2019 BFI Flare Film Festival, Jamie Patterson’s low-budget Tucked is a rare gem. Patterson’s film directly explores themes of mortality, intergenerational friendships and age in the LGBTQ+ community through humour, love and exquisite performances. Filmed over ten days in Brighton, Tucked delivers a funny and deeply emotional character study that never seeks to play to stereotypes or clichés. Jackie or Jack (Derren Nesbitt) is an ageing drag queen who still performs a routine of one-liners and musical numbers on the vibrant Brighton gay scene. On finding out he has terminal cancer, Jackie befriends a new 21-year-old drag performer, Faith (Jordan Stephens), who is new to the scene, and it is not long before the unlikely pair strike up a friendship, first of convenience and then of belonging and care as Jackie prepares for his final performance. Jamie Patterson delivers a genuinely remarkable film on a shoestring budget as he celebrates life, love, and friendship through the delightful performances of Nesbitt and Stephens in a film that carries a surprisingly hefty emotional punch.
THE WHITE CROW (2019)
The life and defection of Rudolf Nureyev have been covered several times in documentaries and docudramas over recent years. Both the 2015 BBC docudrama ‘Dance to Freedom’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Nureyev’ offered fresh perspectives on the man, his life and his art, and now White Crow aims to explore the soul of the man. Centred on Nureyev’s first European tour, a trip that opened his eyes to Western culture in early 1960s Paris and resulted in his defection from Russia just as the light of his talent began to burn brightly, Hares script dovetails Paris into flashbacks of Nureyev’s training and childhood, offering some fresh thoughts on the man and his motivations. However, White Crow too often feels like a trilogy of films mashed into one two-hour feature. Ralph Fiennes’ direction is assured, as are the performances, particularly from first-time actor and Ukrainian ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko, yet there remains something missing as the film dances around Nureyev’s character, sexuality and politics
MINDING THE GAP (2019)
Exploring the Skateboarding peer group of his youth, Bing Liu’s outstanding fly-on-the-wall documentary speaks to the challenging journey from boy to man in a community of limited opportunity. Minding the Gap mixes the adrenaline-soaked world of skateboarding culture with a nuanced exploration of masculinity, coming of age and family as Liu follows his friends as their lives change over the course of a year. The result is a deeply emotional journey of self-discovery, poverty of opportunity and domestic conflict and a dissection of the American dream. Minding the Gap started as a collection of home skateboard movies but became a stunning community portrait of Rockford, Illinois and the lives of the young men attempting to navigate its streets. Here, Bing Liu explores the importance of youth subculture in creating a feeling of belonging and place while demonstrating its fleeting nature as adult life and responsibility take hold. There is true honesty and powerful self-reflection housed in this home movie turned documentary as each young man silently screams for hope, escape and transformation.