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Theater Camp

Directors – Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 92m

****

The teachers and students at a theatre camp rehearse their annual Summer show, their unscrupulous, with the camp’s founder unconscious in hospital, while the nearby, upmarket, rival camp attempts to close them down and possess their land – faux documentary comedy is out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 25th

@searchlightuk #TheaterCampMovie

As the spelling on its title might indicate, there’s something very American about the concept of a theater camp, a variant of Summer camp for wannabe child actors and theatre people; to the best of my knowledge (and I’m not an actor or a theatre person) there isn’t really a UK equivalent. That said, even those without a strong interest in theatre are likely to have a good time with this winsome comedy. Not only has this been put together with a great deal of love and heart by actors who went through the theater camp experience as kids and have it in their DNA, it’s also very cleverly scripted in outline and makes great use of improvisation in the performances of the part-adult, part-child cast.

Theatre camp (I refuse to use the American spelling from here on) Adirond ACTS, four hours from New York, suffers a heavy blow when its beloved founder Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sedaris) suffers a heart attack whilst watching the performance of one of her students on stage, goes into a coma and is hospitalised, leaving the day to day running of the camp to social media business guru son Troy (Jimmy Tatro), who is completely clueless when it comes to theatre and fails to connect with the young students from the get go.… Read the rest

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Asteroid City

Director – Wes Anderson – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 104m

***

A stage play frames a tale of various characters in a 1950s US desert town, built on the site of an asteroid impact, which becomes the centre of a cover-up after an alien appears – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 23rd

Iconoclast Anderson’s latest is being sold as one thing by its trailer, when it’s actually something else. And watching the film, that something else completely threw me. What we are being sold via the standard letterboxed movie framed image is, a 1950s family trapped in the town of Asteroid City, USA when their car irreparably breaks down, then the entire (not very large) population including visitors imprisoned there following an incident with an extra-terrestrial spaceship and an alien. The overall tone is of whimsy, but maybe there’s something unsettling and disturbing about it too.

Anderson’s movies have never been about photorealism as much as artifice, which is part of their undeniable charm. Perhaps that’s even more true of Asteroid City than most. The costumes, the production design, have gone for a very particular, stylized look. This is fifties American desert romanticised into pastel-shaded eye candy, and if all that were required of going to a movie were to sit down in your seat and soak up the scenery, then provided you’re not the type to insist on photo-representational accuracy, this would be a winner hands down.… Read the rest

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Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Mary Cassatt:
Painting
The Modern Woman

Director – Ali Ray – 2023 – UK – Cert. U – 93m

*****

A look at an often overlooked member of the Impressionists, a US-born, female painter and printmaker who moved from Philadelphia to live in France – out in UK cinemas for one day only on Wednesday, March 8th (International Women’s Day)

I had never heard of Mary Cassatt when I came to this documentary. I’m not really sure why not (apart from the obvious reason, the widespread exclusion of numerous women artists from the annals of art history until recently) and feel indebted to this remarkable study for introducing me to her work. It comes as no surprise that the film was produced by Phil Grabsky for his excellent Exhibition On Screen series about art, although what IS a surprise here is that all the interviewees in this instance are women. Nothing at all wrong with that if they have something of value to say, which they clearly do.

One could argue that the piece has a very strong feminist leaning with its emphasis on women being free to live their lives as they choose. It’s tempting to say that one could forget the gender bias here and simply say that all the interviewees have important insights to share and do a good job.… Read the rest

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The Whale

Director – Darren Aronofsky – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 117m

***

An obese man nearing his death must confront people from his past as well as incidental visits from the present– out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 3rd

A dysfunctional body, a dysfunctional family, a dysfunctional world. Charlie (Brendan Fraser) has so abused his body that his obesity is on the verge of killing him. He is bereaved of his gay partner for whom he left his wife and eight-year old daughter and earns his living as an online English language tutor for high school students. His nurse friend and unpaid carer Liz (Hong Chau) visits him at regular intervals, but can’t get him to go to hospital since he doesn’t have a healthcare plan and anyway resents pouring money into the healthcare system.

The healthcare element will look a little weird to anyone living in the UK with its “free at the point of need” National Health Service.

His other visitors in the course of the film are his estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), his wife Mary (Samantha Morton), a suited missionary (Ty Simpkins) and fast food delivery boy (Sathya Sridharan), the latter mostly heard at the door and only finally glimpsed towards the end.… Read the rest

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See How They Run

Director – Tom George – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 98m

**

A barely competent Inspector and a trainee WPC investigate a backstage murder at The Mousetrap in 1950s London’s theatreland – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 9th

London West End, 1953. Following his involvement in a fight at a party to celebrate the hundredth performance of The Mousetrap at The Ambassadors Theatre, blacklisted Hollywood film director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody), hired by John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) to make a film of the play, gets into fisticuffs with the play’s leading man Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) over the latter’s wife and co-star Sheila Sim (Pearl Shanda).

Later, Kopernick is murdered backstage by a mystery assailant. Perhaps it’s pertinent that Kopernick has ruffled numerous feathers in and around the production, not least foppish, English literary figure Mervyn Cocker Norris (David Oyelowo) who has been hired to write the script and despises everything Kopernick stands for, a feeling which proves in flashback to be mutual.

Thus begins a whodunit based around the world’s longest running play. The police are called in, with Commissioner Harold Scott (Tim Key) assigning alcoholic Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and film buff and over-enthusiastic trainee WPC Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) to the case.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Donna

Director – Jay Bedwani – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 75m

***1/2

A look at the everyday life of Donna Personna, a trans activist from a Baptist background living in San Francisco – released in cinemas and on Bohemia Euphoria on Friday, July 15th

This threw me at first because it appears to be partly Welsh funded yet it’s about someone living in San Francisco. No matter. The seventysomething Donna Personna is first seen powdering her face and telling a story from her youth about getting her sister’s boyfriend to kiss him when she wasn’t around. She seems a genial person, who I would imagine is a lot of fun to be around in real life and a perfect subject for the camera who lights up the screen whenever she’s on it (which is most of the time).

What’s great about this film, for a non-trans viewer, is that it gives an idea of what it‘s like to be trans, both in terms of day to day living and upbringing. It doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind, rather it just wants to show how life is for someone like Donna. Her father was a Christian minister and her mother (not surprisingly) a minister’s wife who between them had a total of 15 kids!… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Benediction

Director – Terence Davies – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 137m

****

The life of First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon, his homosexual lifestyle and his heterosexual marriage – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

It’s been five years since Davies’ previous film A Quiet Passion (2016) and the curious thing is, both these films have been about poets and poetry. The earlier film was about Emily Dickinson, with its discussion about religion and Christianity very much to the fore; the new film is about Siegfried Sassoon and while the Catholicism he embraced in later years is in the mix, alongside that element Davies’ research revealed others of far greater interest to the writer-director, notably that Sassoon was gay. As you might expect, the first half hour or so concentrates on the First World War, but more time is spent in the middle of the film exploring some of Sassoon’s gay relationships with a small section towards the end skimming over his later years and heterosexual married life.

Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) saw action in the First World War and had the utmost respect for the men under his command – and they for him. He was appalled by the conditions under which they found themselves serving.… Read the rest

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Benediction

Glum heroes

Benediction
Directed by Terence Davies
Certificate 12a, 137 minutes
Released 20 May

Films about poets are few; however, the director Terence Davies has now made two in a row as different as their historical subjects. The earlier A Quiet Passion (Reform, April 2017) concerns the introverted, isolated, American spinster Emily Dickinson while the current Benediction is about First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) – a homosexual man when this sexual preference was illegal, before the word ‘gay’ was used to describe such things.

His Military Cross earned for bravery as a First World War officer drops into a stream then sinks, an image expressing Sassoon’s dissatisfaction with the way the war is being run, and the hardships endured by the troops. He writes in protest to the top brass, but instead of the court-martial and platform to speak he expects, he is diagnosed with ‘shell shock’, partly thanks to literary mentor Robbie Ross (Simon Russell-Beale). Sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh… [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Trailer:

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Sideshow

Sideshow

Director – Adam Oldroyd – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 94m

**

Two thieves break in to the house of a washed-up showbiz psychic entertainer and medium – out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th and on all major digital download platforms on Monday, March 21st

Stuart Pendrick a.k.a. The All-Seeing Stupendo (Les Dennis) is a touring, one-man theatre act psychic and medium specialising in mind-reading and contacting the dead. He’s also a compulsive pickpocket with a mind like a sewer, hardly a great combination for wholesome entertainment. After attempting to ingratiate himself with the woman best dressed to show off her cleavage in the front row, he manages none too surprisingly to say the wrong thing and offend the mostly elderly audience.

He rows with his agent Gerald (Anthony Head) about this, insisting the latter pick up his fee for the performance and get it over to him as soon as possible, then drives away from the theatre unaware he’s being tailed by Eva (April Pearson from Tucked, Jamie Patterson, 2018) and the gun-carrying Dom (Nathan Clarke) who follow him to his house, wait for the lights to go out then break in to find the stash of money Eva is certain is in his possession.… Read the rest

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Cyrano

Director – Joe Wright – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

The short stature of Cyrano de Bergerac makes him believe that no woman could ever love him – not even his beloved friend Roxanne, who he can’t bring himself to tell – out in cinemas on Friday, February 25th

17th Century Italy. Witty and articulate Captain of the Guard Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is never at a loss for words. His rapier wit defeats any opponent, as does his rapier proper should any be foolish enough to challenge him to a duel. Being short in stature, he can’t imagine that any normal sized woman could love him for who he is.

He is therefore unable to confess his love for her to the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett), the woman and lifelong childhood friend for whom he would do anything. So when she falls in love at first sight with Christian (Bashir Salahuddin), a new recruit to Cyrano’s regiment, Cyrano finds himself torn between her rejection and his desire for her to be happy with the man she loves. Unfortunately, this intelligent and free-spirited young woman enjoys nothing more than the literary cut and thrust which Cyrano is able to provide but the inarticulate and out of his depth Christian is not.… Read the rest