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Fleabag (2016–2019)
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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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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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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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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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)
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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Halston (2019)
27 May 2019
In what may be the definitive look at Studio 54 crazy seventies fashion excess, "Halston" is a mixed bag of riveting stories, grainy VHS tapestry, and failed mystery caper.

Flamboyant dress dictator Roy Halston Frowick was indeed larger than life, and his dirt poor farm boy to fashion mogul of the stars story is watermelon juicy. Juicy and messy. Everyone loves an impossible mountain climb, especially when it is followed by a precipitous fall. The Halston tale has it all, complete with a bevy of celebrity cameos, eye-popping paparazzi pics, shocking news headlines, and jittery standard definition television clips. It's a cinematic ice-cream headache: a sweet and delicious start, which leaves you a bit concussed by the end.

If nothing else, this doc serves as a perfect history primer for the outrageous spectacle that the fashion industry would become. Plus it features the utterly charmingly cut-throat Halston in all his fabulous, pompous glory.
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25 April 2019
Boys to men skating for their lives, Bing, Zac and Keire glide to gloomy adulthood in lower class America in a jarringly potent documentary. Starting innocently with frivolous summery teen joviality, "Minding The Gap" seamlessly moves into bleak futures that ride on dark histories.

The charismatic trouble leader, Zac smokes, skates and drinks his days away, stubbornly fighting adulthood and responsibility. And as much as he dominates the screen, happy go lucky goof Keire steals the movie with his emphatic optimism. As the filmmaker, Bing spends most of the time in the shadows, but steps out to confront his horrific past. Something all three share.

"Minding The Gap" is a great, free-wheeling snapshot of exuberant youth, a harsh look at family strife, a brutal glance into the sinking have nots, a brilliant take on race, and one helluva film.

It is the present version of the all-American dream: scarred, messy, shattered, but with hope. Not to be missed.
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JT LeRoy (2018)
23 April 2019
Based on a true story that was based on a big fat lie, J.T. LeRoy is first and foremost, a delicious vehicle for thespian wonder Laura Dern, and second, a bit of mishandled mess.

Messes can be good though, and this curious ride delivers the old truth is crazier than fiction roller coaster thrill of thin celebrity skin, and those infatuated with peeling back layers at all costs. A gender fluid teen, Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy was the pen name of Laura Albert. Which would have been fine, and in literary circles, not that uncommon, except that Albert decided to bring her greatest fictional character to life.

J.T. LeRoy, the film, zooms in on the tightening noose Albert has created with her tepid boyfriend's sister - a wonderfully understated, uncomfortable, unnerved, silly wigged Kristen Stewart. As the controlling director of white lie operations, Dern is fabulous as both the manipulative author, and as the uptight handler Speedy she creates to oversee her mystery puppet.

As complicated as all this all sounds, it is much more than that. The role of gender variations is a key underlying theme, and unfortunately, is fumbled. Too bad, cuz there is a pretty good movie here, and one helluva story.
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Us (2019)
28 March 2019
Masquerading as a political horror flick, "Us" is really a steady stream of cultural references thriller with a twist clever enough to get folks all riled up. Much like the the Coen brothers, and Quentin Tarantino, Jordan Peele is obsessed with littering his grand canvas with a bunny farm of Easter Eggs.

The internet is going crazy tracking down everything from obscure VHS covers, to Biblical passages, to this Michael Jackson fella. It's all a bit much really, distracting from what should be a seat-gripping theatre experience. Pilfering an old Twillight Zone episode about an evil doppelganger, "Us" takes a brilliant premise and clutters it with needless tidbits. This of course means box office gold, as repeated viewings are necessary to grasp everything needed for proper dissection. Shame that.

"Us" looks great, revs nicely to a boffo climax, and features some brilliantly complex performances from its leads. Lupita Nyong'o is especially fantastic. But as with all great horror films, there needs to be a suspension of common sense to really dig this movie. If there's time to ponder on the plausibility of what is happening on screen, then the whole thing falls apart. "Us" comes close, but short (where the hell are the guns?).

Still, there's enough fodder here (privilege, race, America, revenge, soul, cults) for much heated discussion, and Jordan Peele proves he's not a one trick pony director, but a horse that needs to be reigned in a little.
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13 March 2019
Chastising small town Scottish life to indifferent yet surly pubsters more interested in their drink than this open mic looney, Liusaidh delivers her trash talk with poetic vigour before stumbling out for her nightly shag and take away.

As Liusaidh, (Lucy or Loosey) Karen Gillan owns the screen, as she trudges through her insufferable existence, something her best friend decided against a year's past. Her nightly drink/shag/fries concludes with a stagger over the train bridge favoured by local jumpers, and visions of her dear departed, departing. This unsettling tragedy of events soon becomes mundane with repetition, as is everything in the unfortunate ville of Inverness.

Staring into deep dead space from the local deli counter, under harsh fluorescents and a tight hairnet, she encounters a new bloke interested in more than just processed meats, and we are off. "The Party's Just Beginning" doesn't follow the paint by numbers movie canvass, instead delivering a choppy story in jumpy time slices, with equal doses of edgy humour and dark pathos. Attention must be paid.

Although there are glimmers of hope, the film, like it's perpetually grey, dead end town, has trouble finding a rainbow among the clouds, and that may be the point.

This one, for better or worse, or both, stays with you.
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Green Book (2018)
11 March 2019
Up against racially charged cinematic explosions at the Oscars, "The Green Book" took home the grand prize, and made Spike Lee attempt to flee the premises. The polarizing win makes for healthy debate and curiosity seekers should check this film out.

This role reversal, buddy-buddy shtick flows mighty thick, but it actually happened. A good natured Italian thug is hired to drive a prim and proper black musician on a tour of the South. In 1962. Yup. A big-hearted, big-stomached Viggo Mortensen stumbles perfectly through his inevitable transformation from racist simpleton to enlightened simpleton, while Mahershala Ali's hard shell eventually softens enough to join in the Merry Christmassy ending.

The cookie cutter script is baked just right, but anyone hoping for an edgier take on America's race relations best look elsewhere. Where "The Green Book" shines is in the background details - the sets, the cars, the hotels, Little Richard on the radio. This is 1962 America.

It may not have been the game changer folks craved to see groping golden statuettes on Oscar's night, but Mortensen and Ali made it come to life, and that's why the "The Green Book" succeeds.
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Cold Pursuit (2019)
4 March 2019
Spoiler alert: Liam Neeson kills a bunch of bad dudes.

The twist? Tis a wintery film this, with bevy of ingenious end of life moments ranging from snow ploughs, to road signs, to glorious pine trees. Comedy noir anyone? "Cold Pursuit" adds that perfect blend of tangy spice to what could have been another paint by numbers revenge caper, giving perfectly cast, stone cold Liam Neeson enough comedic angles to dupe sympathy for a mechanical vigilante.

Though several interesting subplots are buried deep in the snowbanks, "Cold Pursuit" succeeds in that Coen Brothers style of delivering equal doses of terror and yuks, often simultaneously.

Highly recommended, or at least it would be, if this hadn't already been done before, and better, by the same director no less ("In Order of Disappearance"), but with the caveat of distracting subtitles. Choices choices.
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28 February 2019
When a financial IT hustler in the midst of his greatest gamble is presented with a death sentence, he decides to dig a deeper hole.

Twitchy, wide-eyed Jesse Eisenberg is perfect as the edgy and on the edge Vincent, putting out a series of unfortunate fires in his bizarre quest to drill a straight fibre cable pipe from Kansas to New Jersey. Better is balding nerd, hunch-backed, awkward code crunching cousin Anton, played by unrecognizable Alexander Skarsgard in equal doses of clown tear sadness, and physical slapstick. Their escape from and battle with Cruella Devillish Salma Hayek (strong boss Eva), stirs the plot pot.

"The Hummingbird Project" is an exercise in determined futility, as a couple of misguided geniuses in search of life-altering, get rich quick adventure, get in way over their heads as their world spirals out of control. And though the film veers off common sense tracks, there's no denying it's power to cajole viewers along for the crazy ride.

Dig it!
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Sink or Swim (2018)
27 February 2019
Mid-life crisis misfits saddled with various issues, strap on speedos to rock the world of, a-hem, synchronized swimming!

Ah, the French.

Overflowing with big name Franco actors, "Sink or Swim" is a box office sensation overseas, and has Cannes and Caesars nods to boot. Tis a land after all, which confuses Jerry Lewis with Orson Welles.

Yes the acting is fine, and there are enough bits and pieces of cinematic charm, but much of this film is way too syrupy, easily predictable, if not down right frustrating. The backstories are too many - some are hambone ridiculous, others are dramatically cold - and most are not flushed out properly.

The inevitable transition from frogs to princes is hardly believable, and frankly, anticlimactic. You know there's a feel goody, splashy ending coming, which kinda defeats the purpose of spending a couple of hours with these flabby gents, and proves to be quite the shallow end.
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15 February 2019
More of a research project than a movie, "52 Words for Love" asks questions about the unanswerable: what is love?

By offering up a weekly synonym for love on her social network, Alice opens a can of complicated worms. Candid interviews reveal the wide scope of the love definition, and how it drives everyone on a daily basis. Quite timely this, as set in stone relationship standards have been obliterated in recent times. Pretty much everything is on and off the table. And men, who not so long ago were awkwardly, if not staunchly mum on the subject, are suddenly in on the discussion. This is all about relationships, how they develop, how they succeed, how they fail, how they flounder, how they grow, and how everyone involved, when prodded, sees their own unique dance.

In the end, nothing is really answered, but that was a given, other than that love is a personal, often ethereal thing, and deserves ongoing dissection.

Good luck.
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Arctic (2018)
15 February 2019
"Arctic" starts with a cold opening, and the temperature drops from there. With no back story, no flashbacks, no explanation, no thundering voice over, no leading series of events, we are plunked into the middle of an Arctic solo survival adventure. Tis a simple synopsis, that is revealed in sparse, undramatic bits and bites: an airplane carcass, a set of fishing lines, a crank radio, a well-worn dirty parka, a stoic and silent lead.

Danish actor for all seasons and master of one (spoiler alert: winter), Mads Mikkelsen is this movie. He absolutely owns it. Well, his grim, wind-battered face does. With a dearth of dialogue, and only the monotonous grind of survival in a harsh desert expanse, "Arctic" moves at a glacial pace, slowly gathering momentum in what turns out to be a gripping thriller. Man versus nature, where nature is an unrelenting bully.

In what could have been a typical Hollywoody film scenario, "Arctic" achieves that rarified of cinematic accomplishments: a riveting, uncompromising tale of action and reaction, with meticulous, tedious pacing that feels chillingly real.

As blunt as everything seems, there is an underlying, unspoken inner conflict of a man perfectly capable of standing alone, suddenly nudged off his perch to venture into life changing, and possibly ending, decisions.

A polarizing film for sure, but those patient enough will be warmly rewarded.
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Destroyer (2018)
31 January 2019
Nicole Kidman is astonishing, and unrecognizable. A hard life's worth of eye baggage, desert cracked lips, permanent bed hair, and a staggering hangover gait, detective (barely) Erin Bell, formerly an undercover cop, is still smothered under those heavy, heavy covers.

She's a mess. A cold, lifeless mess. And she owns the screen.

A recent murder presses the rewind button on a series of unfortunate events, in which we get to see a young, ravishing Kidman, some horrific decisions, and eventually, after some puzzling but engrossing flashbacks, a final resolution.

And though the clever story does eventually come together, it is a tad disappointing. This film is more about Kidman's powerfully understated and totally haunting performance. Her broken body barely able to carry any weight, fueled by what's left of her mind: a hazy cloud of regret, struggling to find some sort of redemption. Some sort of closure. Some ... thing.
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Roma (2018)
14 January 2019
A spandex strongman pulls a car with his teeth. A dude seduces his date with a naked martial arts demonstration. A guy gets shot out of a canon, cartoon style. Fear not, "Roma" is not a surrealist comedy about silly male behaviour. It's better.

After "Gravity" defying Hollywood, Alfonso Cuaron delivers an astonishingly moving ode to his youth, carefully stalking a family with a widescreen, smoky black and white lens. Endurance testing long, lava fluid, trance inducing, intoxicatingly delicious, cardiac arresting, "Roma" is the year's best movie. And it's not even close.

The anti-Hollywood action flick we all so desperately needed, Cuaron's masterpiece plays as a distant, voyeuristic, peek at complicated family strife in astonishingly realized 1970 Mexico. It's all moving photographs, long, panning, beautiful takes of life's ugliness, revolving around the generous glow of beloved maid Cleo. Yalitza Aparicio is an understated wonder in the lead, evoking a spectrum of summer sun warmth to horrific tragedy, with a minimum of dialogue. Simply fabulous. And fabulously simple.

At well over the dreaded two hour mark, "Roma" will test some impatient movie fuss-budgets, but once the spell takes hold, this movie won't let go. Cuaron tackles some hefty subjects - class, sex, political and relationship struggle - in a deftly subtle, background delivery. Watch locally, think globally.

If there's no big ass theatre around, project this stunning Netflix beauty on a wall for the full experience.
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10 January 2019
With horror master Eli Roth stuffing the director's chair, there should be a foreboding dread throughout this totally innocent family fare. But it never develops. Which is quite the surprise. And that is good.

Witches and warlocks and haunted houses: the fantasy film marks are checked. A pre-teen orphaned misfit thrust into a magical kingdom battle of good versus evil in post war America, is on the menu here. And though it does slip into sappy territory, the movie with the long name works in that old fashioned Disney way.

The characters are over the top colourful. The sets are meticulously complex. The plot bounces along at a steady pace. And most importantly, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are superbly snippy as adults in charge of our young hero. In spite of some silly CGI moments, like attacking jack-o'-lanterns, "The House With a Clock in It's Walls" works because of the strutting leads, obviously enjoying the freedom to have some fun on set.

Not great, but not bad.
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6 November 2018
Bill Murray is the Banksy of public performance art. He's a warm, wonderful oddball who just might crash your next event, however small, or insignificant, and instead of dominating the room from a celebrity perch, he just blends in. These life bombs of wedding pictures, kickball games and karaoke bars, are now the stuff of urban legend. Though with digital proof, they are just legend.

Why a Hollywood hotshot would chose to mingle with his audience, sometimes for hours, is the question documentarian Tommy Avallone tries to answer in this rather fine film. We see the famous grainy footage: Bill tending bar, Bill washing dishes at a party, Bill treating a stranger to World Series tickets, and we meet the giddy recipients of these pop-up moments.

As theories are bandied about, it becomes clear that there is something transcendently magical about these experiences, for everyone involved. Less about giving, and more about sharing, Murray's connections are real, unscripted, joyous.

Tommy spends the whole of the movie tracking down the elusive movie star, culminating in an encounter which plays true to the spirit that Murray has cultivated.

Quite a lot of fun.
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15 October 2018
John C. Reilly's giddy reaction to a flushing toilet, or his clumsy introduction to teeth brushing, are but a few of the little gems sprinkled throughout this Gold Rush western. Not technically a comedy, "The Sisters Brothers" has just enough tiny smile inducers mixed in with a languid pace and stark violence to rank among the best westerns of recent yore.

With Joaquin Phoenix, Riz Ahmed (both very good) and Jake Gyllenhall (excellent as a proper dandy with flowery language), we have an odd buddy-buddy vs. buddy-buddy road movie. Jacques Audiard directs directly from the Coen Brothers school of clever period pieces, starting the show with an after dark, distant gun battle, that's as mysterious as it is beautiful.

The line between good and bad guys is in flux, but Audiard knows how to elicit sympathy towards the Brothers, even as the ruthless hit men set about their messy business. "The Sisters Brothers" is a beautifully shot epic, with some charming performances, an intriguing Gold Rush plot line, and a sensitive dip into the complicated brotherly pool.

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8 October 2018
Never mind the wardrobe malfunction, there's the The Super Bowl finger!

In a world where most pop stars' dabbling in politics is of a perfunctory, often naive nature, there exists a few explosive artists who really are game changers. Unfortunately, many are often disregarded as self-serving alarmists.

As a Sri-Lankan refugee, the transplanted Brit M.I.A has been tireless in fighting for the Tamil people seeking independence back in her homeland. With a father who co-founded the revolutionary Tamil Tiger movement, her's is more than just a privileged outsider connection.

Mixing pop and politics is also what this jumpy documentary is all about. Before music became her weapon (both intellectually and on the dance floor), video was M.I.A.'s vocation, and this film takes full advantage of a lifelong grainy footage trove to tell the complex story. The results are a mixed bag, but effectively show the growth of a spirited, young radical into world famous persona, with many of her victories, and missteps along the way. It's an engrossing doc, and must viewing for anyone wanting a well rounded look into what M.I.A., and her passionate struggle is all about. At the very least, it'll increase the Google activity on a much overlooked part of the world.
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My Generation (I) (2017)
3 October 2018
Turns out the crumbling of crusty upper class Britain was engineered by a bunch of long haired art hooligans who made dreary old London swing with a rainbow of colours. And who better to flashback to the mid-sixties than Michael Caine?

Don't answer that, just see the movie.

With a bevy of jovial (off screen) interviews, Caine reminisces revolution with old pals McCartney, Daltrey, Twiggy and Marianne. The stories are great, and we are treated to some primo era footage, but it all rests on Caine's ample shoulders. As a Cockney in a princely movie industry, he helped usher in the working class bloke as a screen presence. A significant moment, aligned with the rock and roll explosion, contemporary art and fashion waves, it signalled a way out of the stodgy career paths previously devoid of any detours.

More of a history lesson than exploitation flick, a classy bit of cinema this.
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26 September 2018
To tell a tall tale, the Italians speak loudly, with much exaggeration, and accompany themselves eagerly with fast moving hands. Subtlety is not on the menu.

A rather wild and wooly story, "Tulipani" is told from several points in time, which proves a tad confusing at first, but soon enough, once the audience is priorly strapped in, congeals into a starchy, pasta water whole. We start in Canada, travel back to Holland, but everything really happens in a small Italian town. Locales and languages shift on a slippery dime, which adds to the fun craziness of this engrossing fairy tale of true romance.

Gauke, a stoic, heroic Dutch man's man winds up bringing much more than just tulips to a folksy village in desperate need of saving. The loopy plot unfolds from the very colourful memory of the local tavern owner, which takes it into a foggy, grey area. Who knows how things actually went down, but it sure is fun when guided by an old fashioned, wide-eyed story teller.

Over the top? Entertaining? Whimsical? Cliched? Silly? Big-hearted? Unbelievable? You betcha.
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