JT LeRoy 2018 ****

JT_LEROY_ONE_SHEET-1There’s plenty of films about hoaxes; the nature of a disguise works well in cinema. Savannah Knoop was the young girl who appeared in public as the reclusive author of three autobiographical works; as with other hoaxes, it did not end well, and she published a memoir explaining what she did and why. That memoir is now the subject of a sophisticated film by writer/director Justin Kelly, who manages to avoid any tabloid trashiness, yet still manages to evoke the personal, private horror of a private arrangement that explodes in the public eye. Sister of Geoff (Jim Strugess), Savannah (Kristen Stewart) arrives in San Francisco only to fall under the spell of his girlfriend Laura (Laura Dern). Laura has had literary success as JT Leroy, but needs someone to attend book-signings and literary events. With a blond wig and glasses, Savannah fits the bill, but once an actress (Diane Kruger) is wowed by Laura’s phone-sex skills, a mooted movie-version of LeRoy’s second book threatens to bring a spotlight that shines too brightly for the conspirators to hide from. That Kruger’s character Eva iseemsbased on Asia Argento (whose LeRoy adaptation The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things premiered at Cannes) adds the further layer of notoriety; if nothing else, Kelly’s film illustrates William Goldman’s film industry maxim that nobody knows anything. Eva is presented in a very negative way, offering sex in return for the rights to the book, and then moving onto another relationship once they are secured.’ I made this film for you,’ Eva shrieks, while both Laura and Savannah come out of Kelly’s film with some bonds of friendship intact. Most films about the media have a tin ear; JT LeRoy feels painfully real, not least because Stewart is a great, vulnerable lead, but also because Dern oozes self-assuredness, not least when she’s playing Speedy, an invented personal manager and fixer for LeRoy whose strangulated English accent and colourful wig brings to mind perennial British media non-entity Janet Street Porter.

JT LeRoy is in UK  Cinemas and Digital from 16th August 2019.

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Personal Shopper 2016 ***

Some films are deliberately challenging, some meanings are proposed to be elusive; Olivier Assayas should offer a cash prize for anyone who can confidently synopsise his supernatural thriller Personal Shopper. Twilight fans with a crush on Kristen Stewart will get more than they bargain for in this strange story set in the world of high fashion. Stewart plays an intern in mourning for her twin, who has recently died. After an ectoplasm manifestation which looks straight out of Ghostbusters, Stewart is menaced an unknown assailant by phone, via a series of cryptic messages. Do ghosts use social media? Or it the man who attack her boss after her?  A series of tense scenes further the story without ever explaining what’s happening, and scenes which feature an invisible ghost boggle the brain. Stewart is absolutely brilliant in this role, mixing movie-star looks like a fragile vulnerable character that generates huge involvement. If the climax doesn’t make sense, the coda further muddies the waters; Personal Shopping is a great, original film, just don’t ask what it means.

Cafe Society 2016 ***

cafe society.jpegEvery review of a Woody Allen film starts with a long précis of the writer/director’s career to date. Perhaps it’s understandable, since it’s often hard to see his films as individual pieces, and too easy to place them on a chart of the advance or decline of his storytelling. Café Society is a bitter-sweet romance which ably reteams Kristen Stewart and Jessie Eisenberg, the Hepburn and Tracey of the stoner generation from Adventureland and American Ultra, and builds around them a tragic-comic narrative in a F Scott Fitzgerald style. It’s a boy-meets-girl story in 1930’s Hollywood, with a neurotic anti-hero who briefly gets the girl only to see their relationship drift apart. With luminous leads and photography, Café Society is a strong and persuasive meditation of the fragility of love, and might just have some appeal to those unfamiliar with Allen’s back catalogue.

Camp X-Ray 2014 ***

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Kristen Stewart has made good ground in her efforts to escape the Twilight shadow, even if few of her films have been as widely seen. Writer and director Peter Sattler gives Stewart plenty to do as a Guantanamo Bay guard who strikes up an unlikely friendship with prisoner Ali (A Separation’s Peyman Moaadi). The minimalist drama than unfolds is quite theatrical, which much of the dialogue spoken through the tiny slot of a door. Both Stewart and Moaadi excel in their roles, and Camp X-Ray manages to avoid the usual war-is-hell platitudes to uncover a human story caught in the mechanism of political manoeuvres.

Adventureland 2009 ***

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Writer/director Greg Mottola’s follow up to Superbad doesn’t feature the same off-kiler, scabrous energy, but that’s no bad thing; the hero of Advertureland, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), is a much mellower character, and his ambitions go beyond drinking and partying. Back in 1987, his ambitions lie in trying to hold down a summer job at the Adventureland theme park, with romance with Em (Kristen Stewart) a welcome distraction for discovering that the skewed rules of nailed-down coconuts are representative of the school of hard knocks that life is to offer him. Despite support from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, Adventureland is something more sensitive than a knockabout comedy, a rites of passage drama that’s as authentic and slightly grubby as the theme-park T-shirt Brennan wears throughout.

Snow White and the Hunstman 2012 ***

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Kristen Stewart’s development as an actress was clear from her growing confidence in her portrayal of Bella in the Twilight films; her rise from virgin to vampire matriarch is quite a curve, and Stewart proved more than up to it. Casting her as Snow White gave her an ideal opportunity to demonstrate her range in Rupert Sanders revision of the classic fairy-tale, with Charlize Theron as the villainous queen and Chris Hemsworth as the huntsman she teams up with. The ads and publicity for the film emphasized the romance between them, omitting the dwarves with are superbly rendered and played by stalwart performers like Eddie Marsan, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone and Bob Hoskins. Sanders works wonders with the effects, and the script (by Saving Mr Banks’s John Lee Hancock amongst others) is smart and intelligent; the final shot suggests’s that Snow White’s triumph may also be her downfall, but this is one of the few special-effects extravaganzas compelling enough to make a sequel a welcome prospect.