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Jojo Rabbit (2019)
9/10
LET'S DANCE
20 January 2020
Oh that Hitler!

Quiet an amazing feat, to create a context in which the most reviled character in history elicits smirks, guffaws, and out and out belly laughs. New Zealand film director wonder Taika Waititi not only tiptoes a dangerous minefield of comedy tragedy, but also inhabits a Stoogey Fuhrer in one of the most outrageous acting stabs in recent memory.

Everything revolves around giddy Hitler Youth Jojo (fabulously sincere and boyishly feverish Roman Griffin Davis), as he grows into his new double digit age, lapping up the local propaganda, eagerly striving to belong, and chumming about with his invisible chancellor pal. A sweet buddy-buddy picture? A vibrant coming of age story? A stunning moral tale? A slapstick comedy? A bloody war drama? It's all here. Plus Sam Rockwell!

Poking fun at historic tragedy with a short stick is dicey business, and though plenty of serious subplots run throughout, "Jojo Rabbit" works because the characters, from major to minor, are brilliantly developed, and impeccably acted. This is one crazy warm war film.

Much like Wes Anderson's best works, which this film sniffs of, "JoJo Rabbit" cleverly punctuates poignant moments with brilliant British invasion pop songs - using the German versions to great effect.

Go JoJo go!

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5/10
SMELL THE GLOVE
13 January 2020
Ooof.

You. Are. Welcome. Ugly characters doing abhorrent acts makes for an extremely squirmy movie experience most will want to eagerly avoid. Feel free to walk past briskly, and look the other way.

No need for scratch and sniff, this here's a pungent stinker. A stinker in a startling realistic, viscerally violent and disturbing manner. Based on fact, which in itself is a shocking revelation, "The Golden Glove" follows stumbling alcoholic slimeball Fritz Honka on his serial killing spree. Jacking up the violence of previous murder films seems impossible, but here it is. This is absolutely brutal viewing.

Glamour poster actor Jonas Dassler is unrecognizable as the shudderingly creepy, sloppy, klutzy, disfigured lost soul lashing out impulsively at his miserable life by taking others. A Quasimodo hunch and punchbag face accentuating his sorry sap routine. Whether at the Golden Glove pub - a dive where deplorables convene to repeatedly hit rock bottom, or at his atrociously ratty attic apartment, Honka preys female companionship via booze, but only finds solace with the bottle.

With a lingering war hangover, early-seventies Hamburg is a grimy, forgotten village of the damned, where sketchy prostitutes go missing, teeth-challenged transients complain about immigrants, and schnapps is the only dependable friend. It is an empty film of an empty place, frequented by empty locals. No future? Right here.

Exactly what this movie is, or why it is, isn't really the question. There are no questions. There's just the stomach punch stench that shows humanity lingering on the margins, which for better or worse, will always be documented.

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7/10
DO THE HUSTLER
7 January 2020
Running wild and loose, Eddie Murphy rapid fire riffs his way through a profanity laced biopic of legendary hustler Rudy Rae Moore. As the creator of underground blaxploitation film sensation Dolemite, who cussed, kung-fu chopped and streaked his way to cultdom in the mid seventies, this just might be Eddie Murphy's perfect vehicle for yet another comeback. Vroom vroom.

Several career stops as magician, stand-up comic, and R'n'B crooner, all pointed to an inevitable movie career for Moore, except Hollywood wasn't quite ready. Fly by the seat of your pants chutzpa and innovative corner cutting techniques berthed an outrageously awful, but mind-bogglingly hilarious cinematic achievement. The real life creation of the Dolemite character is, of course, even better.

Murphy is a sweet fit as the big-hearted, wise-cracking impresario of racy entertainment cheese, always ready to forge directly into the line of fire with an ear-splitting grin and an eye sparkle. The optimistic joy of unabashed, overconfident creation jumps off the screen. That's the good news.

While owning the larger than life swagger, Murphy never truly embodies the Moore character. It is Murphy doing Murphy throughout. Seems odd for a proven, adventurous mimic and acting chameleon. This shortcoming is especially telling next the totally fabulous performance of unrecognizable Wesley Snipes as the pompous yet bored, eternally tipsy, and scene stealing director co-star D'Urville Martin. Now that's some acting!

Small quibble, and those unfamiliar with Moore may not give a whiff, but it is what it is.

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9/10
OK BOOMER
31 December 2019
Fudging history, a Hollywood staple, seems out of fashion these days. Enter Quentin Tarantino to expertly and rather romantically rewind to a time few remember, but those who do, will well right up. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is exactly that: a cinemascopic love letter to summer of '69 L.A. in glorious technicolour.

Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton) and Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth) have never been better as long time lead actor and trusty stunt double, looking at a precarious employment sunset. Rick's smoking strut armour of extravagance, thinked with mid-career panic evident with a slight stutter slip, is a thing of disastrous, fragile beauty, whilst Cliff's down to earth servant with heart of gold and matching fists character, is classic stereotyping. Together they are Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but on the backlots of silly television westerns.

Tarantino let's his actors play, while streaming a steady pastiche of golden age Hollywood as the backdrop. The marquees. The cars. The clothes. What a trip!

Having the ominous threat of the Manson Family murders looming throughout, "Hollywood" carries a cruel tension, creating an unsettling dread from knowledge of history. And though Tarantino brings it, as he always does, in an explosive finale, his tackling of Hollywood history in a truly Hollywood manner is absolutely exquisite.

Perfect.

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7/10
CRAPSHOT
20 December 2019
Funny, not funny. That's the secret behind this oddball yet ultra serious documentary. How do you raise awareness about the world's struggles with proper sanitation? With a stream of horrible puns and a toilet costume of course. That's Jack Sim cracking potty humour from behind the throne, or inside the throne, or whatever, he is the throne. Fact is large populations are lacking what most take for granted: the ability to flush our troubles away. All jokes aside (for now), this is more than just an inconvenience issue, it is a health catastrophe on a substantial scale. Enter Sim, Jack Sim.

A disgruntled Singapore businessman in search of making a difference, Sim left his very lucrative past to conquer crap. Spearheading his non-profit WTO (World Toilet Organization) with his infectious optimism and winning smile, Jack is the perfect spokesperson for the task, yet is so feverishly gung-ho, he can't stay on point long enough to see many of his projects to completion.

The doc shifts from waste management to Jack's complicated internal motor. What makes him tick? How does he tick? And who does he tick off? it happens.

Augmented with cute cartoons and Jack's effervescent personality, we get a glimpse into the workings of a driven go-getter trying to save lives while balancing precarious family life, and all the while, there lurks an uncomfortable lesson about a touchy topic.

A royal flush.
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9/10
FROM NEW YORK TO L.A.
11 December 2019
And the Oscar goes to... Pretty well everyone involved: leads Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, supporting actors Laura Dern and Alan Alda, director writer Noah Baumbach. Award spoilers aside, there's a damn startling movie here. Hollywood has tackled divorce often, and fumbled, until now. Eschewing the staid good guy vs. bad guy conflict, Baumbach zeroes in on a wonderful and lively young family, coming apart in a slow, spreading crack, that despite all good intentions, just keeps growing like a Roadrunner cartoon.

"Marriage Story" is an infuriatingly frustrating tale of characters who click as a couple, bubble with natural chemistry, yet can't quite transition past their early, blinding, love-in stage, when redefining transition is absolutely crucial. A universal conflict this. Driver and Johansson are exquisitely real in their roles, wrapping each other in delicious camaraderie, stepping out of comfort zones to seek solutions, snapping pettiness in conflict, crumbling at frustration. Can't help but cheer for their bliss, and tear up at their unravelling. Emotional roller coasters don't come much hairier.

Baumbach isn't afraid to poke, prod and twist deep into messy psyches on a journey revealing the complexities of human nature. Even in turmoil, amidst the vitriol, sometimes there is revelation. The lesson here: a lot of relationships unfurl because individuals crave their freedom, is a tough one because there isn't a magic solution, and sometimes happens. Also: lawyers are the worst.

A tough but worthwhile watch.
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The Irishman (2019)
9/10
POWER IN THE UNION
29 November 2019
On the heels of a glorious Marvel Universe diss, old school filmmaker Martin Scorsese does more than yell at the kids, he delivers a marvellous film. "The Irishman" works as a splendid godson to the great mafia melodramas way back in the last millennium, but it also offers up a simple hypothesis to the whatever the hell happened to Jimmy Hoffa quandary. And more importantly, why it happened.

As the big mouthed, wide-eyed teamster boss, Pacino channels his late career one dimensional blustery best into a role perfectly suited to an uncomplicatedly stubborn character, but really, Al jumped the shark when he started smelling women. Then, as the well-meaning, overtly dedicated and stupidly subservient henchman Frank Sheeran, we have Robert De Niro. He IS this movie. A matter of fact narration from the old folks home guides the action that swings from comedic posturing to blunt violence at the slightest provocation. Frank is simple. Frank is congenial. Everyone likes Frank. Except a daughter. That tense relationship is his lone regret, and a vital running thread.

Spanning decades, and with the help of computer manipulation (make up? we don't need no stinkin' make up!), "The Irishman" follows these badfellows from virile hoodlums to decrepit, shaky shells. It's a startling bit of cinema magic, especially for the grape to raisin transformation of a shrinking Joe Pesci. Plus, it's pretty cool to see former Godfathers Pacino and De Niro come full circle to rekindle their glorious gangster past.

There's a lot to love and loathe here (in a good way), from the simmering development of lifelong relationships, to silly, seemingly mundane character interaction ("who wears shorts to a meeting?"). Most importantly Scorsese manages to warp time with this film; it is a super quick three and a half hours of your life. A hit.
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7/10
METHY BUSINESS
13 November 2019
Not a stand alone movie, but a cool two-hour, episode 63 of the "Breaking Bad" franchise, "El Camino" offers up the goods and the bads from whence Vince Gilligan last left us dangling. Anyone not on the binge brigade, or at least a thorough background check, will be confused as hell, but there ya go.

Spinning the cameras and focusing directly on the forgotten partner in crime, Gilligan ties up several loose ends whilst orchestrating Jesse Plinkman's desperate life scramble. As the simple, misguided but driven teen, Aaron Paul's character required as big a stretch as Bryan Cranston's Walter White, and his scattered, jig-sawed story ached to be flushed out.

Several forgettable Hollywood missteps in the interim showed Paul just can't shake Jesse. It's who he does best. It is who he is. Bad news for him, good news for us. We know what we are getting - danger, suspense, action and a bit of cleverness - and are super comfortable with it.

In a wonderful send off bonus, there is a delicious last turn from Robert Forster as a congenial vacuum salesman slash fixer, who absolutely kills it, without, er actually doing any killing.

Everything comes together perfectly. "El Camino" carries on the visceral tradition of the series with carefully paced adventure, saturated colours, bleak landscapes, and rigidly masculine performances. All that's missing is the horses.

Giddy-up.
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7/10
JUST ONE LOOK
7 November 2019
You want the dirt? There ain't none. Documentaries without bite kinda bite, but can serve as well placed bookmarks for times long forgotten. Some say for the best. Yet there's enough in this here Linda Ronstadt biopic to achieve a wee bit of melancholic flashback entertainment.

Chiefly forgotten these days, Linda Ronstadt was a money making dynamo in the seventies, cranking out platinum albums, crossing over genres like there were no walls, dominating the AM radio charts, and gracing magazine covers with her squeaky clean cutie pie all American girl next door looks (sometimes in a Girl Scout uniform). Cool that next door is actually Mexico (which flows in her river of blood), and proved to be the inspiration for the fabulous "Conciones de mi Padre" record, easily the musical highlight of her varied career.

Ronstadt turns out to be quite the smart lady, delivering a confident maturity and political savvy belying her fresh years in an early clip. Her climb to fame, which at the time looked meteoric, was actually a struggle, yet seems all but inevitable because of her awesome pipes. It is great to see the power, command and drive in her live performances, since most of her albums are now garage sale filler. Ronstadt was a force of the times, but because she wasn't a composer, gets little historic play in the cruel entertainment biz.

As is par for a music doc course, the formative early years are the draw, and Ronstadt's are surprisingly kaleidoscopic. Her quirky family, which includes heralded inventor, great grandpa Ronstadt (the electric toaster!) deserves more air time, but the heady, just post-woodstock adventures with the Eagles, Emmylou Harris and Neil Young, is what rock loving boomers crave, and get.

A juicy tabloid romance with much maligned Governor Jerry Brown is hardly mentioned, which begs the question is there more than this squeaky clean wikipedia style document offers? Perhaps not. There may not be any dirt, but surely they could have dug a bit deeper.
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Joker (2019)
8/10
TEARS OF A CLOWN
31 October 2019
The superhero movie that isn't. That's a good thing. Not one fat Hollywood buck was spent on CGI. Not that anyone gives a buck, but there you have it.

"Joker" is a cruel and beautiful prank on what's left of the D.C Universe: a standalone tale following a deeply disturbed misfit derailing and dragging a willing audience along (both on screen and off) for his special train wreck in a garbage strikken Gotham City (pssst: 1981 New York).

Youngsters may not recognize the "Taxi Driver" and "King of Comedy" mash up going on here, but that's ok. Joker works both as a fanboy's dedication, and as a singular stab at noire art. The screen is filled with magnetic Auroras of bluesy greens, and sporadically splashed with blood red ejaculate. It looks fabulous. It sounds fabulous - full of creepy beautiful Frank Sinatra crooning.

Sorry comic book devotees, Batman tie ins are the weak points here, and should have rightly been excised to the cutting room floor. "Joker" is all smoking' Joaquin Phoenix, as he stumbles, trips, falls, rises, dances, and destroys. It is a feral and an all consuming performance, rendering everything else to background bokeh.

Crazy that it was Phoenix who dropped fifty pounds for this role and not Christian Bale. Though this sets up the inevitable anorexic battle: Batman vs Joker.
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8/10
ROID RAGE
22 October 2019
This is a documentary about Polaroid instant film. Might not be so obvious, but really, it really is. Falling asleep halfway through does not diminish said proclamation. Might require several viewings (as was the case) and multiple strong coffees, but "Instant Dreams" tells (kinda) the story of the revolutionary film process (well, until digital made everything obsolete) that swept the nation, nay the world.

Telling the tale in a bizarre, seemingly unrelated forked path, this flick follows oddball folks as they expound on the virtues of not waiting a week to see their snaps, plus a love for the stupendous superiority of blurry, colour challenged shots. Folks covet their Polaroids. And now when the "back to analogue" scam, er, movement has convinced hipsters to buy vinyl records at $40 a pop, the resurgence of expensive old school photographs is a thing.

Ramping up the quirk factor, is an oddly menacing, purply hued conspiratorial style doc within this doc, about mysterious science genius and Polaroid founder Edwin H. Land. In some rare, creepy, but in a cool X-Files way footage, he basically predicts the iPhone by taking out a dark object, faking/taking a picture with it, and making a claim that it will store all your information. Edwin H. Land passed in 1991. Is this for real? Is this like the moon landing? Who knows? Not me. But clearly a full blown documentary on Edwin H. Land is deserving, if not a ninety hour PBS project by Ken Burns.

Filled with weird, psychedelic interludes (the staying awake challenge), there's a "2001: A Space Odyssey" vibe going on here. As in, there's something way bigger than physical photos at play here. Or maybe not.

I loved "Instant Dreams", all three times, perhaps for the wrong reasons, but there you have it. Snap snap snap.
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Ask Dr. Ruth (2019)
8/10
THE S WORD
14 October 2019
It's time for the talk. You know, the, talk.

Thanks to a tiny, pepper pot, ex-sniper and now media darling personality since 1980, North America can now converse sensically whilst employing previously taboo words like, wait for it: orgasm!

Whew.

Now 91, Dr. Ruth continues her tireless campaign to make everyone comfortable with sex by talking about it with a stark openness that, because it is delivered by someone who looks like grandma, elicits everything from awe, to shock, to giggles, to inspiration. No secret there, that's just perfect film fodder, but what this well paced doc does offer is a combination of her astounding history, her unrelenting workaholic pace, and why they are connected.

As a jewish girl at the outbreak of World War Two, Karola Ruth Siegel was whisked off from her native Germany to a Swiss orphanage, never to see her parents again. Her remarkable journey from that bleak beginning to her celebrity status, is a riveting one. "Ask Dr. Ruth" follows, at a good pace, Dr. Ruth as she scampers from one event to another, pausing for some historic tidbits and reflection. Westheimer is all business though, even when discovering some long buried secrets, or visiting childhood friends. She is Dr. Ruth, the sparky, perky dynamo we see on television, and one of the most important voices for women who avoids the feminist tag. What's not to love?

Dr. Ruth will be at the upcoming October 21st screening at the venerable Mayfair Theatre. Maybe she'll answer some saucy questions.
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6/10
SMOKIN'
11 October 2019
Best catch this movie before it disappears, whoops, too late. Here's what you missed. Buried somewhere In the ever expanding James Franco universe - seems this was made back in 2016 - The Pretenders, or Pretenders not only has a flippy-floppy title but a plot that does likewise.

What starts out as an interesting ode to new wave French cinema, forming a soft-focused love triangle full of fresh faced hope, aspiring arteests, and constant chain smoking, devolves into a bit of a mess. Too bad, cuz the first course is quite yummy. As aspiring filmmaker Terry (Jack Kilmer, son of Val, inheritor of stoic face and acting skill) falls for an Anna Karina lookalike in the theatre crowd whilst watching, wait for it, Anna Karina on the big screen. They meet over smokes (natch), but poor Terry needs some nudging and prodding from his Casanova photographer pal Phil to get to first base. You know where this is going, but do you?

Bed hopping ensues, feelings are viciously attacked, confusion prevails, time passes (though no one ages - natch), and just when everything seems to be coming full circle for the boffo ending, we find a red herring swimming in the soup.

Shame, cuz the lead up is quite good, and anyone fond of the French will surely be pleased with themselves pointing out the stream of referential material, but is it enough when the clumsy wrap dethrones all that throning? Probably not. Still worth it for breakout star Jane Levy as the mysterious object d'amour, and the puzzling and super short appearance by wizened Dennis Quaid as the grumpy dad, which makes absolutely no sense at all, but there it is. Bet there's several alternate endings on the upcoming DVD version.
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8/10
ON DESERTING
30 September 2019
Shuttle busing a murder of LA kids out to the Mojave Desert and attempting a musical happening, Desolation Centre was the first punk version of Woodstock. The bare bones year one operation featured Savage Republic and the Minutemen, proving successful enough to entice New York scenesters Sonic Youth, german industrial experimenters Einsturzende Neubauten, and mad scientist Mark Pauline blowing stuff up, to join in on the action.

This was the early eighties, and though the rest of the world was chiefly unawares, the Desolation Center projects proved very influential, and pointed directly to such gargantuan beasts as Lollapalooza, Coachella and Burning Man. Luckily photos were taken, footage was shot, and many people survived to retell the tale. The resulting documentary, if a bit scrambled and rough, does a nice job of capturing the yahoo artistic explosion of a new generation looking to create their own identity, their own scene, their own happening.

Stuart Swezey, who organized the festivals, also directs this doc, and thus offers crucial insider information, but very little distance from the source. It all sounds pretty cool and fabulous and often outta control, and maybe it was, but the film really works best when some of the outsiders like Thurston Moore (who came cross country because he was such a geeky fan) and Blixa Bargeld (who remembers almost nothing) have their say.

Desolation Center works as an historic document, a surprising bit of entertainment, and a look into a time and place few people knew or cared about, but should have.
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8/10
ON DESERTING
30 September 2019
Shuttle busing a murder of LA kids out to the Mojave Desert and attempting a musical happening, Desolation Centre was the first punk version of Woodstock. The bare bones year one operation featured Savage Republic and the Minutemen, proveing successful enough to entice New York scenesters Sonic Youth, german industrial experimenters Einsturzende Neubauten, and mad scientist Mark Pauline blowing up, to join in on the action.

This was the early eighties, and though the rest of the world was chiefly unawares, the Desolation Center projects proved very influential, and pointed directly to such gargantuan beasts as Lollapalooza, Coachella and Burning Man. Luckily photos were taken, footage was shot, and many people survived to retell the tale. The resulting documentary, if a bit scrambled and rough, does a nice job of capturing the yahoo artistic explosion of a new generation looking to create their own identity, their own scene, their own happening.

Stuart Sweezey, who organized the festivals, also directs this doc, and thus offers crucial insider information, but very little distance from the source. It all sounds pretty cool and fabulous and often outta control, and maybe it was, but the film really works best when some of the outsiders like Thurston Moore (who came cross country because he was such a geeky fan) and Blixa Bargeld (who remembers almost nothing) have their say.

Desolation Center works as an historic document, a surprising bit of entertainment, and a look into a time and place few people knew or cared about, but should have.
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7/10
RUNNING WILD
24 September 2019
Spoiler alert: Brittany does indeed, run a marathon. Sorry. But not sorry. What has all the pedantic brush strokes of a paint by numbers, Hollywood feel good sugar rush, about a chunky sad girl turning her world around, is all that, but sprinkles this Cinderella story with honest sweat instead of pixie dust.

Jillian Bell is perfectly cast as the slightly plump, wise-cracking gal pal everyone wants to have at the party, but few care to engage past such superficial sheen gatherings. Soon enough she is shamed into lacing up running shoes and finding out their meaning. Friendships are made. Love is kindled. Pounds are lost. And gained. Yes, there are hard truths in this true story, and the physical battle is also paralleled by a mental one.

If the plot gets a bit predictable, the proceedings are saved by Bell's hilarious riffing. Her spontaneous comedic chops are razor sharp, and it seems they let her run improvisationally wild. Good call. Equally killer is Utkarsh Ambudkar as an unlikely life co-conspirator who cools Brittany's fiery tongue with a super chill aura.

Look, this isn't Oscar material, but a breezy ninety-four minutes of fun that slips in just enough real life bits to make it work.
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Freaks (2018)
8/10
SCI-FINE
16 September 2019
Taking on a well worn mutant story line that's been part of the mighty Marvel universe from day one, where the line between good and bad is hazy grey, "Freaks" is less about showy CGI but more about familial relations. And that's why it works. The daughter, mother, father and grandpa family tree that forms the film is a messy tangle of branches and unwieldy roots, which slowly align as the plot unfolds.

Lexy Kolker as single digit aged Chloe, brings a charming naiveté of someone new to life, who might have access to a mysterious super power. The movie rests on her tiny shoulders, and she pulls it off. Whether dealing with her sketchy dad (Emile Hirsch) who may or may not be crazy, or her ghostly mom (Amanda Crew) who may or may not be real, or her sketchy grandpa (Bruce Dern) who may or may not be the neighbourhood ice cream man, Chloe is the central magnet and is damn easy to root for.

Adding another late career feather in his well worn acting hat, Dern is devilicious in his rambunctious retiree role, offering equal doses of creepiness and blood line dedication. Chloe's confusing and changing allegiances to her dad and grandpa is a clever device that spices up this top notch thriller.

My biggest problem with Emile Hirsch is that he looks and acts like Jack Black. It's distracting. But that's a personal qualm, and one that shouldn't detract from the performance, which is manic good.

Yes the story gets a little wacky, after all we are talking about an apocalyptic mutant scenario, so wacky is par for the course. There's enough heart, relatability, and thankfully a lack of superhero posturing (no silly costumes!) to make "Freaks" a winner.

Yup.
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Twin Flower (2018)
7/10
WALKAWAYS
6 September 2019
Escaping from different circumstances, teens turning adult find a common path for survival. "Twin Flower" employs a typical movie plot that switches between the struggle for survival and the developing relationship, moving at a lanquid, steady pace. Our couple is not so much on the run, as on the stroll, favouring realism over sensationalism in a well crafted slice of life.

As Basim and Anna, newcomers Kallil Kone and Aniello Arena nail the right balance of awkward attraction, uncomfortable wariness, loss of innocence and accepting of trust of any new companionship. The first time actors' develop on screen as the story unfolds, which takes it's bloody time, but never strays from the goal.

Though Europe's immigration issue is at the core of the conflict, this is really an age old story about kids forced to grow up way too fast, in a slow series of events. Like most rewards, It demands patience.
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8/10
CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
5 September 2019
Set in the dilapidated remains of a Mexican city ruined by brutal drug cartel oppression, "Tigers Are Not Afraid" follows a handful of orphaned kids clinging to what is left of their lives. Leaving all politics in the background, this absorbing and harrowing adventure proceeds from the childrens' point of view, mixing blunt violence with dreamy sequences, with just enough shocks to evoke a Guillermo Del Toro palate.

Astounding turns from its two leads, Paola Lara and Juan Ramon Lopez, keep this film from careening off the tracks, instilling an innocent believability to what's going on screen, blurring the lines of physical reality and adolescent imagination. "Tigers" is a three wish fairy tale littered with corpses, ghosts and animated stuffies, but by cleverly leaving the adults out of it, it succeeds.
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Fleabag (2016–2019)
10/10
CARRY ON
15 August 2019
The greatest television show in the history of the earth as we know it!!!

Don't worry, you're not too late to the game, and yes 2016 was so three years ago, but that was Season One, and in true British "take our time" fashion, Season Two is this year fresh. Don't have one of those primo amazon accounts? Good for you, pat yourself hardily on the back. That guy's a jerk, and here's how you can screw him: start your free trial, binge both seasons of Fleabag and promptly cancel your membership. Boom! Don't forget to cancel your membership though, this cannot be stressed enough. Please do not write huffy comments if you fail in this three part process. For feks sake people, it's only three steps: start, binge, stop. Basically a one night tv stand (12 episodes is all), except everyone wins.

Right, so who or what the hell is Fleabag? Besides the greatest show in the history of the earth as we know it? It is the brain and body child of the extraordinary Phoebe Waller-Bridges. She of the sharp nose and sharper tongue. Right from the get-go the fourth wall is not just broken but smashed to smithereens, as Fleabag winks, smirks, eyebrow arches, and quips at us through every moment, even the naughty, intimate ones. And yes, there are plenty of those.

Fleabag deals with her wacky lays, her wacky family, her wacky friend, her wacky self, but all in the grand Brit tradition of furnishing our comedy with healthy doses of misery, despair, trauma, faith, sex and hidden complexity. Even though Fleabag is a torching tornado without filter, it is not just easy to root for her, it is imperative. Her aim is totally true even when she dives head first into tempting minefields, and the perilous, just can't help herself journey is scream along hilarious. Season One one is revelatory funny. Season Two is simply astonishing. A quenching couple of 6-packs that hits the spot.

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8/10
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
7 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
An unsettling slow burn survival tale with a methodic yet effective reveal, "Light of My Life" is a startling father-daughter road movie, which operates around a pandemic. A pandemic that has devastated the female population. A pandemic that now pits men against each other in desperate times.

Casey Affleck writes, directs and stars. And he is good. Without his usual Bawston drawl, Affleck is actually intelligible, which helps. Helps a lot. As a good guy on the run, even when there appears nowhere to go, Affleck delivers a stark little masterpiece that digs deep into a parent and child bond whilst the outside world is crumbling to hell. Similar to Cormac McCarthy's "The Road", "Light of My Life" relies heavily on the leads, and they shine. They shine when wet, when muddy, when frozen, when filthy, when bloody.

In the end it's not where they go, or what happens, it's about their little world, their unique connection. Affleck and Anna Pniowsky own the screen from the unforgettable opening sequence to the thrilling end. Easy to root for, this one is. Except for the terrible title of course.

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7/10
DEATH DEFYING
30 July 2019
Sap alert: yes this is a geriatric romance of the old fashioned variety, but it has enough little detours to make it work. The exceptional acting from John Lithgow and Blythe Danner doesn't hurt.

As an aging, secretive survivalist know it all, Ed spends most of his time on conspiracy internet boards, that is until he spies Ronnie at the local grocery store. Courting ensues, with all the magic and hurdles that come with any relationship.

Turns out there's more than one secret to be revealed which threatens a future for these lonely souls, and though the plot line is paint by numbers, there's a sweet innocence that saves this film. A bit of an unexpected ending helps wrap the whole thing up with a lovely bow.

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9/10
KARATE KIDDING
23 July 2019
As a bullied 90 lb weakling accountant who finds his dojo and then his mojo at the local strip mall karate school, Jesse Eisenberg, as usual, is a wide-eyed marvel of static, nervous energy. Transforming from cowering victim to proud yellow belter in short order, thanks to some martial arting and a new appreciation for speed metal, our manboy Casey discovers a new and improved masculine self. Things are looking up, or perhaps sideways.

"The Art of Self Defense" is a deceptive piece of celluloid: a tense absurdist comedy masquerading as a blunt hunk of dark drama. The film comes in a variety of brown hues, takes place in a nondescript place, in a nondescript time, with nondescript people. Hardly anyone smiles, except for the nervous variety. Carefully selected words are spoken in soft monotones and deep eye stares. The comedy is delivered with deadpan sincerity, often during uncomfortable, passive-aggressive confrontations. It's all a gloriously relentless slow burn to the circle of fire climax. Totally worth it.

Carefully structured, methodically paced, filled with complex yet seemingly vacant characters, as if Wes Anderson were to direct "Fight Club", "The Art of Self Defense" is a tightly wound piece of oddball wonder, and the feel weird movie of the summer.

Chop chop.

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8/10
WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN
18 July 2019
"I'm so racist I can't stand it," declares Ellen. Pretty soon she's riding a camel in Cairo. A perfect subject for Tarek Mounib's "calling" of a film: to bring red State Americans into the welcoming hands of Egyptian Muslims, to facilitate some kind of discussion.

Easier said than done, turns out not many Trumpeters are eager to fly into the middle of the Middle East, even on Mounib's all inclusive dime. But soon enough, a lucky seven are experiencing their fish out of water experience in the desert. Eager to start conversations instead of preaching and teaching, Mounib pairs the Yanks with inviting Egyptian counterparts, and that's when the movie shines. All touristy bits aside (thankfully they are few), it is the frank connections made in muslim homes that stirs this melting pot.

Some see the light. Some remain blinded. Some have staggering personal revelations. Others appear unmoved. But all have the experience of a lifetime. As a documentary, "Free Trip To Egypt" works mainly because of Mounib's unrelenting optimism, unabashed cheerfulness, huggy good vibes, and discreet apolitical approach. He is the perfect conduit host for this experiment, and more importantly, someone who has actually done something with his calling.

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Diane (2018)
8/10
I WILL SURVIVE
30 May 2019
Small town New England, where the skies are grey, trees cast skeleton shadows, and folks drive endlessly to nowhere. A group of baby booming women gather for spirited, neighbourly warmth, as the ravages of time loom ominously on their well lived lives. Their men, the ones that are left, shuffle in the background.

Diane has things to do, it says so in long hand on her daily reminder note. But her mundane errands belie a couple of hardships: dealing with an adult son with a history of addiction, and a dying cousin hanging on to a lifelong grudge. As Diane, Mary Kay Place strikes a nuanced balance of vulnerable strength, a woman tough enough to bully her offspring into sobriety, good-hearted enough to bring true friendships to many, and broken enough to dance drunk solo in front of a jukebox.

Filled with excellent turns from a bunch of Golden Girls - actors who cut their chops back on the sets of "Love American Style" and "Mannix" - this film brings enough community spirit to perfectly complement Place's solo tour de force. Friends start to drop. Diane continues her lonely drives. The clouds never break. Nothing much changes, and it's all in Place's stony face.

Not for everyone, "Diane" is a moody chunk of cinema which is oh so rewarding for those willing to stick with it..
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