ozjosh03

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Reviews

Six Minutes to Midnight
(2020)

Half-past Half-arsed
Eddie Izzard should probably have made Six Minutes to Midnight a comedy. As it is, pretty much every aspect of the film is completely risible. While there is an element of truth to the setting - a German finishing school for girls in pre-WW2 Britain - the premise for the film is preposterous. We're supposed to believe that the Nazis have hatched a top secret plan to evacuate these daughters of the Reich before war is declared, and that British intelligence is prepared to do anything necessary to stop them. As if there was nothing more pressing to be getting on with in August 1939. Izzard's limp and exceedingly dull script never comes even vaguely close to making this concept fly. In fact, it is a lazy assemblage of clumsily executed spy movie cliches, with precious little in the way of logic or character motivation to hold them together. It's certainly more Carry On Spying than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - though the Carry On crew's efforts were, it has to be said, infinitely more entertaining. Izzard also fails to bring much in the way of charisma or character depth to his part as the undercover spy/teacher. Given his famed gender fluidity, I can't help wondering if he might not have fared better playing Miss rather than Mr Miller. In drag he might have at least added a much-needed dose of Joyce Grenfell or Beryl Reid. And he does increasingly resemble Beryl, either in or out of drag. Better still, he could have played Miss Jean Brodie, since she already comes with genuine fascist credentials. I struggled to take the whole enterprise seriously from the start, but finally collapsed into gales of laughter as the demented Nazi teacher Ilsa leads the girls up some very steep cliffs, hopefully to freedom, in a sort of twisted reversal of the von Trapps fleeing over the alps in The Sound of Music. Alas, their escape is predictably thwarted in a special effects aerial dogfight that must have cost all of £85. Six Minutes to Midnight also confirms that Dame Judi will, as we have long suspected, lend her national treasure status to any old codswallop. She really needs to exercise a little more caution. Another outing with Izzard and she's likely to have her damehood revoked.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday
(2021)

Lady Day vs Fake History
Lady Day deserves much better than this muddled, often tedious and substantially apocryphal "biopic" from Lee Daniels. In this telling of Billie Holiday's life the song Strange Fruit becomes central to the narrative, with government forces determined to stop her singing the mournful lament, afraid that it will ignite a civil rights movement. At one point she's even dragged from the stage after singing just the first few lines. The problem with all of this is it never happened. Federal Narcotics chief Harry Anslinger apparently claimed in letters that he "asked" holiday not to sing the song, but - even if that's true - that's about as far as it went. Holiday was never dragged off stage for singing the song; in fact, she sang the song in the very concert in which the film depicts this as happening. In any case, the civil rights movement was already a growing force long before Strange Fruit became a popular protest song. As for Billie, she was never especially political and was initially ambivalent about performing Strange Fruit. She was convinced more by the way it would be dramatically staged as a final number than by any notions about the political clout of the lyrics. So to make the song central to her life and have Billie so passionate about performing it any cost is in itself dishonest. But then so much of Daniels' film, from the weird Quentin Crisp-like Reginald Lord Divine character who interviews Billie (he never existed) to the romantic affair with FBI agent Jimmy Fletcher, for which there is zero evidence. At best the film offers brief glimpses into the reality of Billie's life, but they're so swamped with apocrypha that you'll have trouble identifying them. Which makes this a pretty messed up biopic, and an extremely half-assed tribute to the great singer. The only saving grace in all of this is Andra Day, who manages to look and sound like Billie for the most part. But even here there are caveats. Day's performances of Holiday's songs are more impressive as vocal impressions than they are for evoking the emotion and pathos that made Billie legendary. And, sad to say, her rendition of Strange Fruit is oddly stilted, almost bland. Not to mention severely truncated. Never mind that this is the song the entire film revolves around. Strange, indeed.

I Care a Lot
(2020)

It's called "SATIRE" (look it up!)
I Care A Lot is easily one of the best films of the year. A dark, hilarious, disconcerting satire, so fiendishly clever that it has gone right over the heads of at least 80% of IMDB reviewers. Scan the reviews for this movie and you'll find apoplectic rants about how "disgusting" the movie is, as though it's actually advocating elder abuse on a corporate scale. Or lamenting how appalling and unlikeable the characters are, as though we're supposed to like them. In fact, I Care A Lot is based directly on a number of disturbing trends in the aged care sector around the globe, in particular the increasingly corporate face of "care", which is increasingly a code word for exploitation and callousness. The movie viciously satirises both corporate aged care in particular, and unbridled capitalism in general. With Marla Grayson, Rosamund Pike creates a character as chilling and monstrous - and as timely - as Faye Dunaway's Diana Christenson in Network or Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Dianne Wiest is, as ever, excellent as the client who becomes Grayson's worst nightmare, while Peter Dinklage adds an absurd edge to the crime boss determined to take Grayson down. The barrage of one star reviews for a film that may well be a timeless masterpiece and is certainly one of the best scripted and most intelligently executed films in ages is, to put it mildly, disconcerting. But then it also explains how so many could have voted for Trump.

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau
(2014)

Jungle Madness
As fascinating as this documentary is, one is left feeling that it barely skims the surface of the madness that prevailed during the production of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Yes, there are great anecdotes about Brando being crazy or mischievous or, as one more acute observer puts it, displaying utter contempt for his own profession. You get to hear how vile Val Kilmer was. And there's John Frankenheimer stomping around like a parody of an egomaniacal old-school director. And yet you just know that there are worse stories to be told, and that there was seemingly no end to the cluelessness of almost everyone involved in this benighted shoot. So while Lost Soul is one of the better documentaries about a disastrous film shoot, I was left wanting more and wishing they'd dug a bit deeper and provided a more thorough account of the shenanigans, the treachery, the foolishness and the folly of the nightmarish six-month jungle shoot. Even so, Lost Soul is infinitely more entertaining than the movie it documents.

The Dig
(2021)

Beautifully crafted, classy entertainment
The Dig will probably be dismissed by some as old-fashioned and middlebrow. But this film lifted my spirits just by being an elegantly-crafted, intelligent and engaging story. It's skilfully directed, with outstanding performances by Fiennes and Mulligan, and the cinematography is exceptional. The film also shines a light on the overlooked heroes behind a significant archeological find. In a year where the likely Oscar contenders include the insufferably pretentious and pointless Mank and a slew of poor adaptations of stage plays (The Prom, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom), a film like The Dig restores your faith in real moviemaking.

Breaking Fast
(2020)

Stretching Credulity
Not too far into Breaking Fast I wondered if the film was created and funded by some Gays For Mohammed lobby group I somehow hadn't heard about. The narrative certainly seems determined to put a positive spin on the Muslim faith and on Muslim attitudes to gays, despite all the real world evidence that the Muslim religion is deeply - indeed, murderously - homophobic, and not much interested in changing. Nevertheless, we're treated to a story about the unfeasibly Pollyanna-ish Mo, his impossibly down-with-it gay-friendly family, and his ludicrously chaste budding romance with the conveniently Muslim-savvy Kal through the holy days of Ramadan. And since Mo's not allowed any impure thoughts through Ramadan the romance must be more chaste than a Disney musical. Indeed, Mo is a musicals enthusiast - I'm guessing with tastes than run more Rodgers and Hammerstein than Sondheim. (The Sound of Music is mentioned A LOT). As with much about Breaking Fast, this feels like a clumsy construct to make Muslim Mo as sweet and wholesome and non-confronting as possible. To be honest, the effort to make Mo likeable mostly backfire, and the character quickly becomes a sanctimonious, insensitive prig, and deeply annoying with it. And Kal comes off as a complete doormat for putting up with him. There's one commendably feisty scene towards the end in which some of the characters actually confront Mo with the realities of Muslim homophobia, but most of this just bounces off Mo. Seconds later he's serenading Kal in a gay bar with a particularly awful rendition of Climb Ev'ry Mountain. Any politically aware homo who doesn't regurgitate his popcorn at this point is beyond help. Who knows, maybe there will be those (gay, straight or whatever) who will watch Breaking Fast and go away thinking "Hey, those Muslims are not so bad, after all". In which case I suppose Breaking Fast will have done its job. But we live in a world where people genuinely believe vaccines cause autism and Donald Trump is the greatest president ever, so what can you do?

Blithe Spirit
(2020)

The ghost of a classic play
Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit is widely regarded as a fairly indestructible warhorse of a play. It has continued to amuse through countless wonky amateur dramatic society productions and through more film and TV adaptations than generally accorded to theatre classics. So it's surprising that this latest adaptation is so consistently dull, and really never attains the kind of whirlwind hilarity that Coward intended. The problems starts with the script, which jettisons almost everything of Coward's wit and sensibility, as though it's the plot that matters above all else, not what Coward did with it. This might be more understandable if the story was to be given a contemporary makeover, but it's not; the film is set in 1937, where Coward's original dialogue would still resonate. Director Edward Hall fails to generate much in the way of pace, fails to make the most of a string of comic set pieces and, most shamefully of all, fails to get the best out of a great cast. Dan Stevens comes off the worst as the befuddled Charles Condomine, giving a performance that is so artificial and forced that it precludes any possibility of empathising with his character. Isla Fisher is merely dull as his wife, Ruth, while Leslie Mann misses the deliciously playful side of his former wife, Elvira. Most disappointing of all though is Judi Dench, who renders the traditionally dotty Madame Arcarti as a rather ordinary old woman with a perfectly understandable interest in the supernatural - as though sympathy is more important than comedy. Ultimately, the best that can be said of this Blithe Spirit is that it will only enhance the reputation of the 1945 version with Rex Harrison as Condomine and the wondrous Margaret Rutherford as Arcarti.

Dashing in December
(2020)

A Coy & Creaky Christmas
On the plus side: a romantic setting, some nice cinematography and two attractive leads, commendably played by out gay actors. And about two-thirds of the way into the running time this lumbering movie almost threatens to take off and deliver some genuine emotion. But, sadly, it never really recovers from an extremely creaky start and a set-up so obvious that the ending can be seen a-coming from ten-minutes in. We're supposed to believe that Wyatt is a crash-hot business negotiator who really knows how to close a deal. Odd then that he pitches his plan to sell the family ranch to his mother in front of two employees, and with all the finesse of an elephant on ice skates. It doesn't help that he's suggesting the time is coming when Mom won't be able to manage the ranch, despite Mom being played by Andie MacDowell, looking much as she did in Four Weddings (with a few wisps of grey) and good for at least another forty years. Or that Wyatt has seemingly made no attempt to come up with any kind of business plan for the property when that's supposedly what he's good at - and what he does so effortlessly at the end of the film. We get that he needs to be a touch arrogant and selfish at the start in order to have some kind of character arc. But it's done in such a ham-fisted way that it's all but impossible to invest in him as a character. Dashing also suffers from a few of the usual problems with these wholesome Hallmark/Lifestyle gay rom-coms. Thirtysomething gay guys behave like blushing adolescents at their first dance, not like real men with attractions for other real men. It's all so chaste and twee that you wonder why the hell whoever is writing, producing and directing bothered to venture into the tricky waters of gay rom-com in the first place. Clearly, these movies are aimed at female romance fans more than at a gay audience, but you'd think they'd try for at least minimal respect for the gay men they're happily exploiting. Oh, well. Baby steps, I guess.

Sublet
(2020)

Time out in Tel Aviv
Another superior gay-themed movie from Eytan Fox, the Israeli director of Cupcakes and Yossi and Jagger, among others. It's a simple, but well-observed story about a moment between two gay men from different cultures and different generations. Best of all, it's a showcase for the talents of John Benjamin Hickey, excellent in so many US TV series, from The Big C to Manhattan. It's nice to see him as the leading man. And he's well-matched by Niv Nissem, a young actor with the looks and charisma to make his character, who pretty much embodies the arrogance of youth, attractive. Sublet is also a pretty good snapshot of Tel Aviv, and of Israeli youth. I particularly liked Daria, the would- be dancer who decides she's going to rebel by being completely selfish. Worth the effort if you're in the mood for an intelligent, gentle, quietly moving movie.

The Christmas Setup
(2020)

A very sweet, very chaste gay romance
Suddenly everyone is all for making the yuletide gay. Earlier this month it was The Christmas House, Hallmark's first attempt at including a gay couple in their kitsch Americana; now it's Lifetime's The Christmas Set-up, which mostly revolves around a will-they-won't-they gay romance. While Hallmark's gay story was rather tentative, extremely shaky and reeked of tokenism, Lifetime's effort is surprisingly sweet and engaging, and not at all apologetic. As is to be expected, it's also very vanilla; yet the story manages to make that a plus, rather than an obvious avoidance of male-on-male action (which it absolutely is!). The leads (real life couple Ben Lewis and Blake Lee) are appealing and the story around Hugo's career/life balance crisis is likely to resonate with many. And then there's Fran Drescher as Hugo's mother. If nothing else, The Christmas Set-up is an opportunity to marvel at that weirdly mesmerising voice - somewhere between a screech and whine, and now with added raspiness. It's as if he's been gargling with razor blades. The Christmas Set-up is worth a look for Fran alone.

Let Them All Talk
(2020)

A Tedious Improv Exercise
I guess you can see why Soderbergh thought this might fly. Three accomplished, intelligent, charismatic actresses, each of them capable of improvising scenes, developing interesting characters and building relationships without the benefit of an actual script. And, yes, Meryl Streep, Diane Wiest and Candice Bergen are all eminently watchable. Unfortunately, that's no substitute for a strong story, well-crafted scenes and smart dialogue. Let Them All Talk (the title seeming more like the underlying concept than anything pertinent to the content) is just a rambling, undisciplined, mostly tedious attempt at fashioning a movie out of a not-especially-inspired situation and a rather time-worn back story. It doesn't help that much about the writer/agent set up is unbelievable, that it's indifferently directed, extremely slow, often poorly lit and blighted by a dull B-story that involves two seriously dull characters. One sort-of satisfying late scene between Streep and Bergen and a last-minute surprise twist isn't anywhere near enough to save the enterprise.

The Christmas House
(2020)

Ho Ho Hokum
Hallmark is making a half-assed bid for some kind of contemporary relevance with this Christmas movie - their first to feature a gay couple. Unfortunately, it's at least ten, probably more like twenty-years too late to earn them any socio-political kudos. Secondly, the gay couple is so bland, so pushed into the background, so teeth-achingly wholesome that their presence hardly makes any impact at all. With a quick re-edit you could eliminate all hints of their relationship and it would make zero difference to the overall plot. But more importantly, The Christmas House comes off as phoney, hollow and frequently nauseating. It's the worst kind of American family-values sermonising... the kind that actually makes little to no sense. We're clearly supposed to sympathise with the family matriarch, but she's an air-headed, self-absorbed bully who has the rest of the family marching (literally in some scenes) to the military toot of her whistle (yes, she's a female Captain von Trap, only with less mystique). She's also about to blow her marriage apart for what turns out to be no good reason. Her husband remains devoted; she's just a bit unsettled after retiring. Despite this, she still expects the entire family to spend TWELVE DAYS transforming their home into "The Christmas House" with vast quantities of lights, trees, inflatables, fake snow, etc. etc. I get this is supposed to be cute and amusing and a mere device to hold the wafer-thin plot lines together. But, hey Hallmark, it's 2020 and Christmas on this scale - the energy consumption, the plastics, the waste - is nothing short of environmental vandalism, so it's no longer as cute and amusing as you seem to think. There may be viewers who will sit in front of their TVs in their battered MAGA hats, crying into their fourth egg-nog and somehow enjoy this weird mix of "woke" and kitsch (despite "the gays"). But I sure don't want to meet any of them.

Happiest Season
(2020)

It's the stars that got small
Remember when stars had what they used to call "'the X factor"? They may or may not have been good/great actors, but they had a certain glamour or charisma or unique personality that made them watchable, even in sub-standard fare. A real star could dazzle you into overlooking a weak plot or a lacklustre script or even that their character might be, on paper at least, unsympathetic or unlikable. With a Bette Davis or a Goldie Hawn or a Barbra Streisand in the lead the most far-fetched story or the most ho-hum script could still produce a good time. But in Happiest Season the two leading players are Kristin Stewart and Mackenzie Davis - two "stars" entirely lacking in glamour, charisma, or even much in the way of personality. Neither are bad actors, though it must be said that neither has any discernible gift for comedy. In fact, there are bit players with only one or two lines in Happiest Season who have better comic chops than either Stewart or Davis. It doesn't really help that the movie is otherwise cast with actors who have an abundance of charisma and comic ability - among them the delightful Mary Steenburgen, the under-rated Alison Brie, and the adorable Dan Levy, who totally steals the movie. Ultimately, what we're left with is a somewhat thin, but essentially workable rom-com scenario that might have been elevated into something enjoyable, had it been blessed with two stars capable of distracting us from the script's major flaws - namely that Harper (played by Davis) is essentially unlikeable, Abby (played by Stewart) puts up with way too much before she heads for the door, and that at no point is there any indication that Harper's mildly uptight parents are too conservative, too religious, too parochial, too... anything... to not cope with having a lesbian daughter. So Happiest Season just kind of flounders for the most part, and is ultimately way, way less than the sum or its modest parts.

Uncle Frank
(2020)

A minor miracle of a movie
I'd almost begun to think we'd never see a movie like this again. But just when we need it most Alan Ball delivers a classically structured, beautifully written and delicately directed story that is both timely and timeless, as well as deeply moving. What appears on the surface to be a simple family saga is actually one of the most artfully constructed and thoughtfully realised movies in years. It will most likely be overlooked come award season as Hollywood rushes to honour the dumb superhero movies, pretentious gangster flicks and such - ventures in which hundreds of millions have been invested. They need those movies to succeed so the money keeps flowing, I guess. But Uncle Frank is real movie-making. I'm willing to bet you'll remember it long after you've forgotten most of 2021's Oscar nominees.

American Dharma
(2018)

A portrait of a modern Machiavelli
An exquisitely made documentary, in which Errol Morris gives Steve Bannon just enough rope to hang himself. No doubt many would prefer to see Bannon more thoroughly and decisively skewered (which wouldn't be hard), but Bannon is smart enough not to participate with any documentarian who would do that. Instead, Bannon engages with Morris and collaborates all-too-willingly with his conceit of drawing parallels between Bannon's political machinations and his favourite Hollywood classics. The approach neatly underscores Bannon's essential narcissism, while giving him a framework within which he can both expound his political views and reveal himself, both proudly and inadvertently. As the consequences of this current wave of populism - and, more specifically, Trumpism - continue to unfold and blight the world, American Dharma is likely to become an increasingly important document of one of the movement's most important architects. With Trump now defeated (at least electorally) Morris probably needs to re-visit Bannon for his more unvarnished views on the presidency he engineered. Maybe they could call it Dharma and Dumber.

As Long As I'm Famous
(2019)

Dubious Hollywood Melodrama
As Long As I'm Famous purports to be "inspired by true events", but precisely what level of veracity that denotes remains frustratingly unclear. Certainly, nothing about the film rings true, either as an homage to the Golden Years of Broadway and Hollywood or as tale of young love among aspiring artists in the 1950s. The film alleges a romance between director Sidney Lumet and the young Montgomery Clift , though I can find no evidence that any such romance ever occurred. In any case, there's little about the plot or the characterisation of either Lumet or Clift that reveals much about either of them, even if there is some glimmer of truth buried here somewhere. It doesn't help that large tracts of the film are stagey and melodramatic or that the dialogue is preposterously flowery and pretentious. It's a little like it was written by someone who only ever saw Tennessee Williams' worst plays. If you're someone who can't get enough of Hollywood nostalgia with homoerotic overtones - if you're Ryan Murphy, say - then you might find As Long As I'm Famous intriguing. My guess is anyone else is just likely to be annoyed and bored by it.

Ace in the Hole
(1951)

Billy Wilder... wielding a trowel AND a sledgehammer
It's interesting how many reviewers are prepared to shower this seriously sub-standard Billy Wilder melodrama with 9 and 10 ratings. I guess Wilder got one thing right: people are REALLY cynical about the media. As a former journalist, I'm probably more cynical than anyone. I've seen deeply unethical reporters at work. I've seen newspapers manipulate stories and milk tragedies. And I've encountered all the ghouls and gawpers. So, yes, there's a ring of truth to the tale Wilder spins. That said, Ace in the Hole is wildly unconvincing from start to finish. As many have noted, Kirk Douglas gives a scenery chewing performance that is entirely lacking in nuance and subtlety. But that's hardly surprising, given the script he has to work with. There's nothing subtle about Chuck Tatum, which leaves you constantly wondering why absolutely everyone falls for his manipulations and duplicity. Indeed, at the very start of the film his pitch to the local newspaper editor is so odious that you really can't imagine anyone with half a brain giving him a job. He subsequently manages to orchestrate almost every aspect of a cave rescue operation. Nobody else gets a look-in - not the local sherif, not the engineers who bring actual expertise to the operation, nobody. And as other reporters flock to the story, none of them manages to find a different narrative or challenge any aspect of the operation Tatum has engineered. They all fall into line, rather than find their own angle, which is what any reporter (even the most cynical) would do. I'm all for a scathing, scabrous satire, but the cynicism Wilder attempts to pass off here is just fanciful and preposterous. He just doesn't make it fly. And as the deeds become more and more dastardly and the film goes from dark to pitch black, I really don't see how any thinking viewer can continue to suspend disbelief. Yet clearly many have. But while those reviewers may be prepared to proclaim Ace in the Hole "an overlooked masterpiece", I'm a bit more inclined to agree with Wilder's own assessment of the film's place in his filmography. He called it "the runt of the litter".

American Masters: Mae West: Dirty Blonde
(2020)
Episode 2, Season 34

They Done Her Wrong
It's nice that this rather slapdash doco keeps the legacy to Mae West alive, but it offers only a shallow and somewhat contentious take on her career. Along the way it buys into a number of myths cleverly created and marketed by Mae herself, it recycles highly dubious stories around her (alleged) love life, and it even re-frames West as a kind of proto-feminist heroine. One commentator assures us that West was quite promiscuous. Others blithely accept that certain relationships (for example, with her longtime assistant Paul Novak) were sexual. And the theory that Mae was actually a man is only briefly raised and quickly dismissed. In fact, there's a good deal of evidence to support the idea that Mae West was born male, or perhaps a hermaphrodite (with indeterminate sexual organs). One biography makes a very good case that West never had sex with any man, and nobody ever saw "her" naked. There certainly isn't any man who has gone on the record about sex with West, including Paul Novak, who insists their 30-year relationship was platonic. Her one marriage was quickly abandoned, covered up for a decade, and the husband paid to keep his mouth shut. But what's really odd about ignoring the enduring legend about West's gender and sexuality is the photographic and film evidence from her life. West looks masculine more often than she looks convincingly feminine. Her film and stage performances have a clear and distinct aura of drag. And the subject matter and attitudes expressed in her plays and movies are more logically those of the female experience viewed from an outsider (if not precisely a gay male) perspective. Entire books have been written about this, so it's odd that the producers of this doco couldn't come up with even one person to express that point of view. I can't help feeling they couldn't see the wood for the trees.

Monster Pies
(2013)

Questionable melodrama
The proliferation of gay movies in recent years is mostly a good thing, even if so many of them are amateurish, lightweight and all-too-often packed with the kind of lazy negative stereotypes gay audiences regularly complain about in straight movies & TV. But you can argue that visibility is a good thing, and the more voices being heard, the better. I'd include Monster Pies in that too, if it was simply cliche-ridden and amateurish. Unfortunately, this movie goes beyond the standard depiction of teens tormented by homophobia and delivers an ending that is as irresponsible as it is dramatically questionable. The film's tortured hero, Will, saddled with an abusive father and a brain-damaged mother (yes: total overload), nevertheless finds love with fellow film buff, Nick. Yet, just after he finds the words to express that love, he hangs himself. In Nick's presence, of all things. It's astoundingly insensitive and not hugely plausible, but in a film where credulity is constantly stretched, it's hardly surprising. The real problem is that this suicide scenario plays directly into the kind of suicide ideation many gay teens experience. I know for a fact that such a plot development would not pass muster on network television, where standards exist to prevent plot lines that might provoke real-life copycat acts. But independent filmmakers set their own standards - or, as is the case here, operate without any. It wouldn't be quite so bad if the suicide was psychologically justified and/or loaded with some kind of meaning. But it's not; it's just shock for shock's sake. There's little to justify Will being suicidal. The characters and culture depicted in the film feel peculiarly out of synch with 21st century Australia (and more like the 60s or 70s). And the overall level of melodrama (sky high!) robs the suicide of any real impact anyway; it's just another desperately over-the-top plot choice. But it's still one that might speak to vulnerable teens going through any "you'll be sorry when I'm dead" angst, and that makes Monster Pies a potential danger to its key audience. That aside, the film's only redeeming feature is Lucas Linehan as Will. He's an actor with a good deal of raw potential. Sadly, most of his work since this has been also with Monster Pies director Lee Galea, which can't be a good thing. I hope he gets a real break soon.

Coastal Elites
(2020)

Turning rage into art
I'd read a few snooty reviews that dismissed Coastal Elites as smug, self-satisfied, preaching to the choir... etc. The predictable put-downs of critics and commentators who always have to know better. In fact, it's smart, incisive, extremely timely and ultimately quite moving - and while being simultaneously depressing and uplifting. It's exactly the kind of whip-smart political theatre we need right now, when we can't even go to a theatre. Bette Midler is her usual powerhouse self as Miriam, a feisty Jewish momma who channels the collective rage at he who shall not be named. Dan Levy gives a nuanced turn as an actor with mixed feelings about his auditions for a gay superhero. And Kaitlyn Dever gives a restrained, yet masterful performance as a nurse on the front line. All five monologues are exceptionally well-written and brilliantly acted. And all the dopey 1/10 reviews from witless MAGA-hat wearing morons only go to prove that they are, as ever, utterly clueless and doomed to wallow in their cluelessness forever.

Away
(2020)

Seriously?!
Misha wouldn't pass the psych tests to become a parking inspector, much less an astronaut. Though he's not necessarily wrong about Hilary Swank's Emma not having the right stuff to be a mission commander, given that she's ready to call it quits at the first sign of adversity. So she wouldn't have passed the psych tests either. Ditto the emotionally constipated and taciturn Asian woman. That the fractured relationships between this mismatched crew apparently weren't spotted on the first day of training also suggests the entire space program must be fairly hopeless. So just why would anyone watch past the first soap-heavy episode of this nonsense?

Monsoon
(2019)

As thin as a rice paper
It's possible Monsoon is born out of the writer/director's deep feelings about Vietnam and the war. But we'll never really know because he does a fairly poor job of communicating them. Mostly the film just generates confusion and a fair amount of tedium. Henry Golding is Kit, a gay Brit who fled Vietnam at age six with his parents and brother. Now he's come back to scatter his parents ashes. The problem with this is that, though we learn little about his parents and his life, we do learn that a) neither of them ever wanted to return to Vietnam, b) they forbade both sons to return, c) Kit has, at best, mixed feelings about his homeland, and for most of his life seems to have given it little thought. So when his cousin finally, after much angst all round, observes that his parents fought so hard to leave, yet now he's brought them back, it seems like not just a very good point, but the only sensible thing anyone in the film has to say on the subject. Henry Golding is nice to look at, but not an accomplished enough actor to bring any real weight to such a flimsy premise. His romance with Lewis, an American ex-pat, is fleetingly intriguing, if somewhat passionless and ultimately pointless. And after 85 minutes of rambling around some of the less-interesting parts of Vietnam, the film ends abruptly, without ever delivering anything much in the way of insight. I've learnt more about Vietnam, its people, it's culture and the war from Luke Nguyen Vietnam cooking series.

Detroit Evolution
(2020)

Flimsy gay sci-fi romance
This fan-film demonstrates the many dangers of basing a dramatic film on a video game. The characters remain stubbornly two-dimensional, the plot never progresses much beyond the limiting confines of the concept and the storytelling is basic to the point of total predictability. Somebody is "murdering" androids - but Detroit Evolution never even bothers to explore the ethical and legal notions behind how destroying androids amounts to "murder". How is it more than vandalism, especially in a world where androids are apparently reviled? In any case, the murder plot is so creakily obvious that anyone who has ever read a murder mystery will guess the outcome within the first ten minutes. Which leaves us with a sweet, but rather lukewarm gay romance between police detective Gavin and his android partner, Nines. The two leads are appealing enough, but there's not enough complexity to the relationship to maintain interest, even over the relatively short 75minute running time. Beyond the leads, the acting is pretty ropey, there's a seriously lame fight sequence and, worst of all, there's way too much talk and way too little action. (Could the original video game really have been this dull?)

I Am Woman
(2019)

A not-quite-feminist fable
I Am Woman is based on Helen Reddy's autobiography and co-produced by her son, Jordan Sommers, so one presumes it's the version of her life she wants everyone to buy as "the official story". It's a shame then that so much of it is disingenuous and implausible. The film starts with Reddy arriving in New York in 1966, the winner of an Australian TV talent competition. Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays Reddy as a wide-eyed ingenue, as naive and innocent as they come. It doesn't quite square with Reddy already being a seasoned performer in Australia, or having the steely determination to drag her three-year-old on her journey to make it big in the USA. But this is the kind of cognitive dissonance I Am Woman just loves to generate, scene after scene. Reddy's romance and marriage to Jeff Wald is a prime example. Wald is a brash hustler from the Brox, initially imbued with a wafer-thin veneer of charm by Evan Peters. But there's really nothing to explain why Reddy hitches her wagon to such a cold-blooded operator, at least not beside his promises to make her a star. As their partnership evolves the film depicts Reddy literally not noticing Wald snorting cocaine in her presence. (She thought he just had the sniffles for several years?!). And later, when he's lost all their money and landed them in serious debt, we're again supposed to believe Reddy didn't notice anything until it all comes crashing down around her. Once again, she's the innocent ingenue, too naive for her own good. So much for "I am strong, I am invincible". Which brings us to The Song. In the movie Reddy has a moment of inspiration, writes the song and it's off to the Grammies. There's no mention of Ray Burton, the man who wrote the music and who also apparently shaped and refined the lyrics from Reddy's notes. The omission seems emblematic of the dilemma the runs through I Am Woman. On the one hand, Reddy is at the mercy of devious, self-serving men who refuse to give her a chance. On the other hand, she has to do it all alone. I Am Woman wants to have it both ways, even when it's clear that neither version makes any sense. In the one of film's silliest scenes the male executives of Mercury Records tell Reddy that male bands are now the thing and nobody is interested in solo female singers. Mercury Records, just so you know, was a label that established itself with hits by Patti Page, and whose 60s artists included Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington. In fact, the 60s was actually a pretty good time to be a female singer, even one from as far off as Australia (Lana Cantrell, Judith Durham and Olivia Newton-John were all well on their way to solid careers by 66). So that burst of misogyny at Mercury makes little to no sense. We can be fairly sure they were as happy to exploit solo women as they were bands of man. It's far more likely that they just didn't see Reddy as a potential star or they couldn't stomach the obnoxious Wald. Then, and throughout, I Am Woman would have done better to tell a story we could actually believe.

This Is What Love in Action Looks Like
(2011)

One more thing...
Those who watch this excellent expose of Love In Action, a Christian group that ran gay-conversion programs for several decades, might be interested to know that John Smid, the guy who ran Love In Action, ultimately married his same-sex partner in 2014. Investigate any similar Christian ex-gay programs and you'll find similar stories. Virtually all have been run by self-hating Christians who were deeply conflicted about their own sexuality, yet declared that God had "cured" them and claimed they could help cure others. Their programs were/are invariably a witches brew of religious extremism, twisted aversion therapy and insane home-grown "therapies". Very often there is also some sneaky hypocritical sexual opportunism and exploitation along the way. Nobody was ever "cured" because you can't cure something that's not an illness. And a good many (possibly a majority) of the deluded souls who advocated and administered conversion therapy have subsequently admitted they were total frauds, owned their own homosexuality, and settled into gay relationships - or "lifestyles" as they would have previously characterised them - and enjoyed the kind of happiness they previously sought to deny others. We should probably find it in our hearts to forgive them. But I'm not sure I can.

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