Review – Lost Girls & Love Hotels

FILM REVIEWLOST GIRLS & LOVE HOTELSWith Alexandra Daddario, Takehiro Hira, Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney, Mariko Tsutsui. Written by Catherine Hanrahan. Directed by William Olsson. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, and language. 97 minutes. Available on-demand and digital.

Tokyo hose
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Playing like a cross between “Looking For Mr. Goodbar” and “Fifty Shades Of Gray,” LOST GIRLS & LOVE HOTELS is best seen as a character-driven arthouse film rather than something intended to provide tittilation. It raises some serious issues beyond its premise of a young woman looking for love in the wrong places.

Margaret (Alexandra Daddario) is from the west (presumably the Canada of author/screenwriter Catherine Hanrahan) working in Japan at a training school for airline stewardesses. Asked if she’s an “English teacher,” she denigrates herself by saying that all she does is teach them pronunciation. That speaks volumes of her lack of self-esteem.

When we first see her she’s walking along through an underground passageway and a man seems to be following her. We fear what’s going to happen next, but it’s entirely intentional. She’s looking to be picked up and taken to one of Tokyo’s “love hotels,” where rooms can be had for the night or just a few hours. She’s been running away from a troubled past, seeking oblivion in alcohol and meaningless sex, her only friends a couple of other dissolute ex-pats (Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney).

When she meets Kazu (Takehiro Hira) it’s different. He’s strong and assured, with the self-confidence that comes from being a “yakuza” – a gangster in Japan’s underworld. There’s a definite attraction between them, both in and out of bed, but her hopes for a real, emotional connection will be dashed when she learns his secret, which sends her spiraling even further downward.

The story is clearly told from Margaret’s point of view and Daddario’s “girl next door” looks play against her need to feel degraded and submissive. As a psychological examination of this wounded woman, it’s a fascinating character study. The question is whether there’s any hope for her as she takes foolish risks and we see that the people around her are unable to help. Daddario plays her as someone who embraces her fate and thinks this is what she deserves.

On another level, there’s the unanswered question of “why Japan?”  Hira is effective as Kazu, with much of his potential for violence merely implied, as in a scene in a sushi bar where his dealing with some boisterous drunk takes place mostly off screen. Yet couldn’t this have taken place anywhere, or certainly any modern post-industrial society? The point seems to be to heighten Margaret’s alienation from the world around her. She can speak Japanese, admire the culture, and even educate their aspiring stewardesses, but she will never be a part of this world. Her every waking moment reminds her how alone she is.

“Lost Girls & Love Hotels” may not have a profound answer to the universal human dilemma of seeking connection, but in exploring the questions it gives us some food for thought.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – H Is For Happiness

FILM REVIEWH IS FOR HAPPINESS. With Daisy Axon, Wesley Patten, Miriam Margolyes, Emma Booth, Richard Roxburgh. Written by Lisa Hoppe. Directed by John Sheedy. Unrated. 98 minutes. Available on Demand.

Eclectic youth
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“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

One wouldn’t expect a sweet family film from Australia to illustrate Leo Tolstoy’s observation, but H IS FOR HAPPINESS reaches its happy ending by acknowledging the painful and sometimes tragic details in the history of most (if not all) families.

Candice (Daisy Axon) is one of those eager 12-year-olds whose enthusiasm cause her teacher Miss Bamford (Miriam Margoyles) and classmates to roll their eyes. Her sunny disposition seems to be a reaction to problems at home. A beloved baby sister died of crib death and her mother (Emma Booth) can barely rouse herself from bed. Her father (Richard Roxburgh) has lost himself in his work, estranged from his former business partner – and brother – whom Candice refers to as “Rich Uncle Brian” (Joel Jackson).

Candice is not popular at school. The lead mean girl in her class, Jen (Alessandra Tognini), refers to her as “S.N.” which is short for “special needs.” The arrival of Douglas (Wesley Patten) adds a new wrinkle in her life. He’s an odd boy who claims he’s from another dimension and is conducting experiments to return to his real world.

What follows is not only the growing friendship between Candice and Douglas, but her attempts to revive her parents’ marriage, get her father and uncle to reconcile, and prevent Douglas from doing serious damage to himself by using gravity – jumping from high up in a tree – to return to his “home dimension.” In the process she learns that her parents, Douglas, Jen, and even Miss Bamford have their own issues, but it is possible to make a difference in the lives of others.

There is a certain pleasure in seeing a movie based on a YA novel (“My Life As An Alphabet” by Barry Jonsberg) that isn’t set in a dystopia where brave teens have to overcome oppression by totalitarian adults. Instead, while it has a few fantastical touches – such as a mysterious white horse whose presence is never really explained – this is story that should appeal to middle schoolers and their families in showing people facing challenges, and coping with the inevitable losses and hurdles they encounter in life.

The two young leads are perfect as the oddball Candice and “Douglas Benson from Another Dimension.” With her braids, Axon is an Australian Pippi Longstocking ready to tackle any challenge so long as she has her gel pens. Patten was wisely directed to play Douglas as a kid who sees his dilemma as perfectly rational rather than become a caricature nerd. When he professes his love for Candice, he makes Douglas seem earnest and sincere.

“H Is For Happiness” won’t appeal to older teens or cynical adults, but for families with kids of the appropriate age, it’s a charmer.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – All In

FILM REVIEWALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACYWith Stacey Abrams, Andrew Young, Eric Foner, Luci Baines Johnson, Eric Holder. Directed by Lisa Cortes, Liz Garbus. Written by Jack Youngelson. Rated PG-13 for some disturbing violent images, thematic material and strong language – all involving racism. 102 minutes. On Amazon Prime.

Caste aweigh
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We’re in the home stretch of what is arguably the most important election of our lifetimes, which makes ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY, essential viewing. Through interviews and historical footage, the film painstakingly lays out the case that the key issue in voting rights is not imaginary “voter fraud” but actual voter suppression.

With the passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870 – the last of the so-called “Civil War Amendments” – voting rights were secured for all. Well, for all men. Women’s suffrage wouldn’t pass until 1920. For a few years of the Reconstruction period, newly freed slaves not only voted, but elected black men to state and Federal office. That would soon change.

A combination of Jim Crow laws, like poll taxes and bogus “literacy tests,” denied the franchise to blacks. For those who persevered, there was violent intimidation. The 1946 murder of Maceo Snipes, a black World War II veteran who dared to cast a vote in that year’s Georgia Democratic primary, is a stark reminder that the racist notion that black lives don’t matter is not a recent phenomenon. Scenes of peaceful protestors being beaten in Selma, Alabama in 1965 shocked the nation – in much the way the recent shootings and killings have – leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

The film takes us through this history, and brings it up to date, noting how the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, and how some states rushed to pass burdensome voter ID laws, purged voting rolls, and shut down polling stations in minority neighborhoods. Blacks were not the only target of such suppression. States from Texas to New Hampshire put up hurdles to prevent college students from being able to vote.

The film uses the 2018 race for governor of Georgia as a case study of voter suppression. Stacey Abrams, who is one of this film’s producers, lost to Brian Kemp. Kemp was then Secretary of State and directly involved in overseeing elections. The film lays out the numerous ways the state did everything it could to make it difficult for potential Abrams’ supporters to vote, from defective machines to people being told either that they weren’t registered or that they had already voted.

“All In” should make you angry, and demand such commonsense reforms as automatic voter registration and making Election Day a holiday. Even more, whatever your political views, it should make you determined to cast your ballot and make your voice heard. Make sure you’re registered and, if you’re planning to vote by mail, submit your application today.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Summerland

FILM REVIEWSUMMERLANDWith Chris Ball, Maddie Phillips, Rory J. Saper, Dylan Playfair, Noah Grossman. Written by Chris Ball, Dylan Griffiths, Kurtis David Harder, Noah Kentis. Directed by Lankyboy. Unrated. 80 minutes. Available on iTunes, Vudu, GooglePlay and Amazon on Sept. 14, 2020.

The gay’s the thing

Just when the state of teen comedies was a cause for despair, along comes SUMMERLAND, which has the usual adolescent sex and drugs hijinks yet gives it a fresh spin. Part of it is by making one of its main characters gay, which is no small thing, but a lot of it is simply in treating its teenage characters with respect instead of as cartoons.

Bray (Chris Ball) has found his dream boy on a dating site. Unfortunately, it’s a Christian dating site and Bray has created a female persona, complete with a picture of Stacey (Maddie Phillips), the girlfriend of his British friend Oliver (Rory J. Saper). Bray isn’t interested in a one-night stand. He wants a real relationship and thinks that Shawn (Dylan Playfair) is really gay as well. They agree to meet up at Summerland, a summer music festival.

Much of the movie is the road trip, with time out for psychedelic mushrooms and skinny dipping, and visits to San Francisco and Las Vegas in the RV owned by Stacey’s parents, who are conveniently out of the country. They will have a number of comic misadventures along the way before all the secrets come out, including that Oliver’s visa has been revoked and he has yet to tell Stacey. We do not get formulaic happy endings for the characters, but believable ones given what they’ve gone through.

It says a lot about where we are in 2020 – and particularly with Generation Z – that the central friendship between the gay Bray (and yes, that rhyming is made something of) and the decidedly heterosexual Oliver and Stacey is taken as a given. They accept each other as a matter of course, not as if a special point is being made. While the film will undoubtedly have a special resonance for gay teens, this should play well for its target audience of whatever orientation.

The cast, particularly the three principals, are engaging, with even the broader characters holding on to their essential humanity. And that’s the real point here. Yes, they hunger for love, experiment with sex and drugs, do stupid adolescent things, but co-writer/director Lankyboy (the onscreen alias for co-directors Noah Kentis and Kurtis David Harder) recognize them as people struggling with themselves as they make their way to independence and adulthood.

“Summerland” could only have been made as an independent film. As a studio project this might have turned into something like “The Binge,” where the overindulgence of every available vice was the whole point of the movie. Instead, it provides some laughs, but uses the excesses of the characters to explore what makes them tick. The result is a teen comedy that doesn’t insult the intelligence of the viewer, which is acause for celebration all by itself.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Unpregnant

FILM REVIEWUNPREGNANT. With Haley Lu Richardson, Barbie Ferreira, Betty Who, Giancarlo Esposito, Mary McCormack. Written by Rachel Lee Goldenberg, Ted Caplan, Jenni Hendriks, Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, William Parker. Directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual content, strong language and some drug references. 103 minutes.

Roe bloat

Have you ever finished watching something and wondered if anyone involved in making it has ever interacted with an actual person? I stared slack-jawed at UNPREGNANT for most of its running time, baffled by this purportedly serious film that takes place in an alternate universe where human behavior has been subsumed by goofy, sitcom face-pulling and hackneyed slapstick stereotypes. It’s a garish land of loud colors and even louder line readings, grotesquely mis-applying a Nick TV aesthetic to matters of grave importance. The whiplash dissonance is obscene.

Haley Lu Richardson stars as Veronica, a hyper-perky high school overachiever bound for Brown University in the fall, aghast one afternoon to discover that she’s pregnant. Being that she’s a minor in Missouri and there’s no way her super religious parents – who keep a painting of the Pope wearing shades on their mantelpiece – would ever sign a consent form, Veronica’s gotta go all the way to Albuquerque for an abortion. Due to plot contrivances too laboriously stupid to be recounted here, she winds up hitting the road in a stolen Trans Am with her estranged childhood BFF Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), a green-haired gamer slob in every way the opposite of fussy, fastidious Veronica.

What follows is a wacky, squabbling road trip full of high-pitched hijinks and comic misadventures on the way to get an abortion. Astute readers may have already noticed this is an almost identical storyline to the recent “Never Rarely Sometimes Always.” But where writer-director Eliza Hittman plumbed the grim realities of a young woman’s predicament with stark realism and devastating emotional honesty, “Unpregnant” is a happy-go-lucky lark, rife with silly chase scenes and upbeat musical montages. It’s gross.

Kooky supporting characters mug for the camera, shouting lame one-liners that beg for a laugh track and everybody generally avoids the subject that the story is ostensibly about. (You could swap out the reason for Veronica and Bailey’s journey – make it a college interview or something – and frightfully little of the movie would need to be rewritten.) It all plays like a very special episode of “Sam & Kat” in which Sam needs an abortion, and the massive mismatch between tone and content made me think of that scene in “Natural Born Killers” when Rodney Dangerfield viciously abuses his sitcom family to canned laughter and applause from a studio audience.

“Unpregnant” is based on a YA novel by Ted Caplan and Jenni Hendricks, who are among five credited screenwriters here, along with director Rachel Lee Goldenberg. Eventually I grew exhausted watching them all bend over backwards with regard to Veronica’s boyfriend (Alex MacNicoll) trying to keep the character unsympathetic enough that we won’t mind her pawning the engagement ring he gave her so she can go run off and abort his child in secret, but he can’t be too much of a jerk because then we won’t understand why she was dating him in the first place. (Unsurprisingly, from scene to scene none of his behavior makes the slightest bit of sense.)

No subject should be considered off limits, and it is quite possible to make a comedy about abortion. Others enjoyed “Obvious Child” more than I, and this past spring’s “Saint Frances” had a refreshingly adult take on the topic. But what those movies have in common is that they took their characters and the situation seriously, acknowledging that a woman’s right to choose is a profound responsibility, and not just pretext for a bunch of crazy anecdotes like that time you and your old bestie bummed a ride from a survivalist limo driver in Amarillo.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Over the past two decades, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

review – i’m thinking of ending things

film reviewi’m thinking of ending thingswith jesse plemons, jessie buckley, toni collette, david thewlis, guy boyd. written and directed by charlie kaufman. rated r for language including some sexual references. 134 minutes. available on netflix.

Bad infinitum
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Charlie Kaufman is one of those filmmakers that some critics and film cultists swoon over while leaving most people cold. i’m thinking of ending things may be his chilliest offering yet, and not simply because it’s set during a winter snowstorm. Like “Synedoche, New York” and “Anomalisa,” it’s less a film than a self-indulgent mess that requires a decoder ring to figure out what he’s trying to say. It’s not worth the effort.

The film opens with a lengthy car ride with Jake (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) going to visit his parents. They talk and talk but we also hear her interior thoughts about their relationship going nowhere and wanting to break it off. When they finally arrive, Jake first takes her on a tour – in the cold and snow – to the family barn where she sees dead lambs. Finally, the family sits down to dinner.

Mom and Dad (Toni Collette, David Thewlis) talk at cross-purposes, and there’s an extended discussion about the game Trivial Pursuit, which may amuse the nostalgia buffs. During this long sequence, the parents grow younger and older with no explanation. Details about the girlfriend, including what she’s studying and even what her name is, change, and she keeps insisting she has to get home because she has work the next day.

Then it’s back on the road, leading to, among other things, a janitor cleaning Jake’s old high school, an animated commercial for a fast food place, a Nobel Prize ceremony, a student production of “Oklahoma,” and a lengthy discussion of John Cassavettes’ 1974 film “A Woman Under The Influence.” Have you seen it? If so, have you seen it recently enough to appreciate the discussion?

Kaufman’s films are known for their lack of plot and reliance on surrealism, but unlike such filmmakers as Luis Buñuel or Peter Greenaway, Kaufman lacks the wit or facility with actors. Collette and Thewlis have done some marvelous work elsewhere but need a director who knows how to rein them in. Here their performances allow them to indulge their worst tendencies, and the scenes with them are excruciating. Plemons and Buckley attempt more realistic performances, seeming to understand that their characters work best if they don’t act like they’re trapped in a strange movie, but by the end Kaufman’s script overwhelms them.

The movie is based on a novel by Iain Reid and there are articles on the internet that purport to “explain” the film’s meaning, but if you need outside help to even get a toehold with a movie, then it’s failed. That you may deepen your pleasure reading about a rich film is one of the things that keeps film critics going, but if a movie is opaque without any outside help then it’s asking a lot for an audience to sit through 134 minutes of it. In short, “i’m thinking of ending things” works only as a title describing the thought that many viewers watching it will have as they reach for the remote.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Critical Thinking

FILM REVIEWCRITICAL THINKING. Starring John Leguizamo, Corwin Tuggles, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Rachel Bay Jones, Michael Kenneth Williams. Written by Dito Montiel. Directed by John Leguizamo. Unrated, but contains violence and profanity. 117 minutes.

Fisch out of water
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A shrewd deployment of two formulas for which I am a total sucker, John Leguizamo’s CRITICAL THINKING combines the underdog sports movie with the inspirational teacher saga, telling the true story of an underserved, misfit Miami high school that became the first inner-city team to win a national chess championship. The movie is set in 1998 and could quite easily have been made then as well, calling to mind films from that era like “Dangerous Minds” and “Searching For Bobby Fischer” in its foursquare family entertainment values, except a little rougher around the edges than the latter and not nearly as full of shit as the former. You won’t find a lot of surprises in this story, but then the reason these formulas are so familiar is because they work.

An electrifying talent who never quite landed the superstar movie career he deserves, Leguizamo makes what’s for all intents and purposes his feature directing debut (he helmed a boxing flick for HBO back in 2003 that seems to have vanished off the face of the planet) and does his best “Welcome Back, Kotter” routine as Mario Martinez, who runs an early morning elective called Critical Thinking at Miami Jackson High. The school’s snooty principal (Rachel Bay Jones) considers it an hour of free babysitting for her most troublesome pupils, while Martinez – nicknamed Mr. T by the kids – explains that they have two options in his class, “You can do nothing or you can play chess.”

The rambunctiously funny classroom sequences, in which Martinez tries to turn game strategies into life lessons, sometimes feel like an extension of Leguizamo’s wonderful recent one-man-show, “Latin History For Morons,” which likewise found the performer in front of a blackboard, putting on a cavalcade of comic personas to tell slangy stories left out of most school textbooks. His star students are Sedrick (Corwin Tuggles), who struggles at home with an alcoholic, abusive father (Michael Kenneth Williams, doing depressingly little with an underwritten role) and Ito (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), who’s been drifting dangerously close to the orbit of their Dade County neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer.

Screenwriter Dito Montiel chronicled his own childhood on the streets – and launched Channing Tatum’s career while he was at it – in his 2006 “A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints.” He and Leguizamo make an interesting choice roughly fifteen minutes into the film. Right when we’re starting to settle into the warm and fuzzy familiarity of these tropes, there’s an abrupt, out-of-nowhere shooting that’s just business as usual in this part of town, destabilizing any sense of complacency and reminding us how much is truly at stake here for these kids. It casts a pall over the rest of the movie, keeping the audience aware that where we are, the worst can always happen.

Since the “sport” in this underdog sports movie happens to be chess, there’s not much Leguizamo can do in the way of training montages or captivating game play. (Though he does seem to have watched “The Color Of Money” a ton of times for camera tips.) “Critical Thinking” is focused less on the tournaments and more on the obstacles faced by our team in getting there. Their school doesn’t have a budget for this kind of thing, and the students’ colorful attempts to raise funding sometimes fall short of legality. It’s impossible not to be roused by their victories over the white preppies from private schools, with our self-described “hoodrats” talking smack over the chessboard like they’re on a basketball court.

“Critical Thinking” almost falls apart in the final reel, with cheesy graphics out of an old ‘90s video game laid over the national tournament and a choppy, unclear resolution to Ito’s storyline. But it’s carried over the finish line by sincerity, goodwill, and this enormously appealing cast. “I appreciate your inspirational speeches and shit,” Sedrick tells his teacher after an emotional revelation. “You’re corny as hell, but I like where you’re coming from,” indicating that this young man could grow up to be a fine film critic.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Measure For Measure

FILM REVIEW – MEASURE FOR MEASURE. With Hugo Weaving, Harrison Gilbertson, Megan Smart, Mark Leonard Winter, Claude Jabbour. Written by Damian Hill, Paul Ireland. Directed by Paul Ireland. Unrated. 107 minutes. Available on-demand and digital.

Spry Bard (With A Vengeance)
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If you’ve ever studied Shakespeare, you probably learned that he lifted many of his plots from other sources. Turnabout is fair play. In MEASURE FOR MEASURE, Paul Ireland and his collaborator, the late Damian Hill, take the plot of the play of the same name and turn it into an Australian crime drama, and it proves to be an engaging spin on the story.

The story opens at a large housing commission complex – their version of public housing – where Duke (Hugo Weaving) has to instruct his protégé Angelo (Mark Leonard Winter) that he’ll be much more successful at loansharking if he doesn’t kill the borrower. Duke is a drug kingpin with his hand in everything, including having a dirty cop (Gerald Lepkowski) on the payroll. When a drug-addled veteran from Duke’s operation goes berserk on drugs, he’s told to lay low for a while, leaving Angelo in charge.

Also marked by the incident are aspiring musician Claudio (Harrison Gilbertson) and Middle Eastern refugee Jaiwara (Megan Smart) who meet and find themselves attracted to each other. This puts them at odds with her brother Hassan (Claude Jabbour), who deals in illegal guns and who does not approve of the relationship. When he takes action against Claudio, it entwines all of the characters for better or worse.

You don’t have to know Shakespeare to appreciate the story, What they’ve done is taken the plot and adapted some themes, such as the aging Duke looking at a challenge to his authority, and added a new element by exploring the question of assimilation of a Muslim family into Australian society. There are some powerful emotions at play but remember that this is a gangster film, so the scenes of violence are jarring.

The performances make it work. Weaving is the lion in winter, mourning the losses in his life but a leader you don’t want to cross. He does it with quiet authority, making Duke all the more fearsome. As the young lovers, Gilbertson and Smart get to explore whether and how their feelings might overcome the obvious cultural differences. Even as the attraction grows, Gilbertson shows Claudio’s hesitancy, not being sure what signs of affection would be acceptable. In one scene they’re at the movies and when she rests her head on his shoulder he’s pleasantly startled.

In “Measure For Measure” we have a story first written by an Italian playwright, taken by Shakespeare and transported to Vienna for the English stage, and reconfigured on film for modern Australia. While the debate over “cultural appropriation” can be complex, it’s worth noting that some appropriation is how the works of one artist inspires the work of another. Who knows where this story might turn up next•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related b ooks. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Robin’s Wish

FILM REVIEWROBIN’S WISHDirected by Tylor Norwood. Written by Scott Fitzloff, Tylor Norwood. Unrated 76 minutes. On Demand.

Strip mind
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It’s hard to believe that legendary comedian and actor Robin Williams is gone six years now. What was even harder to accept at the time was the news that he had taken his own life. Rumors abounded about depression or financial reverses, but the truth was different. ROBIN’S WISH is a documentary which focuses on his final years and vigorously explores the relatively little known illness that was likely the major factor in his demise. It is available on demand starting September 1.

It wasn’t until after Robin Williams’ death that an autopsy revealed that he suffered from Lewy Body Dementia (LBD), something that had been undiagnosed. His widow, Susan Schneider, says that had he known he might have been able to handle his decline but he had no idea. LBD is a degenerative brain disease for which there is no known cure and which is inevitably fatal. The symptoms, which can include memory loss, lack of sleep, depression, and hallucinations, would be doubly frightening to someone who was given no explanation for what was happening to him.

The film takes us through Williams’ final years, including his marriage to Schneider (his third) and his settling into life in an oceanside neighborhood in San Francisco where he biked, walked his dog, and was a friendly figure in the neighborhood. Friends and co-workers, most of whom are speaking out for the first time, reveal that they saw signs of decline but didn’t know what to make of it. This includes David E. Kelley, creator of “The Crazy Ones,” a sitcom that lasted one season, and Shawn Levy, director of the popular “Night At The Museum” movies. We also hear from medical experts explaining the impact of LBD, one of whom discusses just how advanced it was in Williams’ case. The film is intended to raise recognition of the disease, something that Schneider has adopted as a cause.

Oddly, we do not hear from Williams’ adult children from his previous marriages. Since one named his child – Williams’ first grandchild – McLaurin, which was Williams’ middle name and another was married on what would have been Williams’ 68th birthday, it doesn’t seem that they were estranged. Quite the contrary. Unless they simply didn’t see their father in the last few years of life, their absence here suggests issues outside the subject matter of the film.

The real point of the film, other than a celebration of Williams and educating the viewer about the disease that cut him down, seems to be making the point that the line between physical illness and mental illness is vanishingly small. “Robin’s Wish” is a plea to examine our own feelings about such things and provide the support needed to those trying to cope as well as those trying to make a difference.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Get Duked!

FILM REVIEWGET DUKED!With Samuel Bottomley, Rian Gordon, Lewis Gribben, Viraj Juneja, Eddie Izzard. Written and directed by Ninian Doff. Rated R for drug content, language throughout including sexual references, and some violence/bloody images. 86 minutes. Available on Amazon Prime.

Reviled thing

If you think old farmers getting high by eating rabbit droppings is amusing, you may enjoy GET DUKED! (aka “Boyz In The Wood”). That is what passes for wit in this utterly witless British teen comedy that takes what might have been an interesting premise and drives it into the ground.

The setup is that three troubled teens (Rian Gordon, Lewis Gribben, Viraj Juneja) are required to compete in a wilderness trek called the Duke of Edinburgh Award. They are left in the Scottish countryside with a map and told they need to find their campsite by sundown. They are joined by nerdy classmate (Samuel Bottomley), who is the only one who takes their task seriously. In short order they’ve destroyed the map, taken drugs, and gotten lost. And then there’s mysterious masked aristocrat (Eddie Izzard) who is taking shots at them while claiming he has to “cull the herd.”

There’s no real narrative drive here as they find the campsite fairly early in the movie, and are left wandering around aimlessly while avoiding getting shot. One of them is an aspiring hip-hop DJ, leading to the bizarre scene where he leads a bunch of farmers – addled on hallucinogenic rabbit droppings – in song. It might be amusing if one was actually on drugs at the time, but it comes across as labored. There’s also a couple of cops who think the boys may be terrorists but are really on the lookout for a “bread thief” who has stolen all the baked goods in the region. The payoff to that story line is as inept as it is uninteresting.

One has to wonder what the point of it all was. First time feature writer/director Ninian Doff has done a number of videos, and treats this as a series of disconnected moments, joined only by the four misfits learning the meaning of “teamwork.” Usually in these kinds of comedies the outcasts triumph by overcoming peers who are part of the in-group (with “Animal House” being a classic example) or some other type of authority figure (such as “The Breakfast Club”). Here it’s a bunch of tweedy aristo-twits wearing silly masks who might as well have been Martians or zombies for all we know about them. Some future graduate student might find of interest is this is the third recent movie (after “The Hunt” and “The Prey”) featuring humans being hunted for sport as a major plot element. What that might say about our times is beyond the scope of a film review to dissect.

Ham-handed, dull, and not particularly amusing, “Get Duked!” is a waste of time and effort.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.