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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Always Be My Maybe 2019 ****

It’s not a matter for debate; Netflix have brought back the rom-com, even if it’s a slightly different beast on streaming. Always Be My Maybe is pretty much everything that’s required from the genre; two personable leads in Ali Wong and Randall Park, who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Golamco, plus a well-caught San Francisco vibe, plus a scene-hogging cameo from Keanu Reeves that rocks the film for a couple of extended scenes. Always Be My Maybe is the story of two kids who grow into adults without ever properly evaluating their bond; even when they’re going out with other people, Sasha and Marcus are more able to be themselves when they’re together, and Nahnatchka Khan’s film makes the most of the unrequited confusion. There’s plenty of funny lines including ‘Famous people are different; I once saw Glenn Close eat a pineapple sandwich…’ and an ingenious scene making fun of the fancy food that hipsters eat. Seeing normal people doing relatable things in increasingly rare in cinema; Netflix’s streaming service is well served by appealingly light fare such as Always Be My Maybe.

https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80202874?source=35

The Manitou 1978 ***

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Adapted from a novel by horror writer Graham Masterton, The Manitou is an engrossingly daft horror film that offers more amusement than most comedies. Karen (Susan Strasberg) has a lump growing on her back, and her psychic boyfriend Harry (Tony Curtis) comes to believe that it’s a 400 year old Indian medicine man known as a Manitou. What could have been a breakthrough film for director William Girdler proved to be his last, but he pulls together a ragbag of elements from Burgess Meredith as a doctor to an excursion to a fourth dimension where Karen develops the ability to fire lightning bolts from her fingertips. A complete farrago, The Manitou is a cornucopia of silly ideas, rendered into a classic of so-bad-its-good cinema.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes 2011 ***

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Rupert Wyatt pulled off an accomplished reboot of the popular sci-fi series that wisely takes the franchise back to the start of the ape regime, skipping the absurd melodrama of Tim Burton’s remake. Will Rodman (James Franco) is the scientist working on a cure for Alzheimer’s, with Ceasar (Andy Serkis) the ape who gets treated like a human being when his intellect begins to soar.  Mistreated and confined to a cell with his fellow apes, Ceasar begins talking about a revolution, and Wyatt’s film ends with a dynamic revolt, with the apes causing mayhem on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. Likely to be the first in a long line of films about Ceasar’s struggle for power, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an intelligent and astutely written film that considers wider issues of animal and human rights without ever letting Ceasar become a monster; sketching the bedroom window that he misses on the wall of his cell, he’s a empathetic hero in a way that makes Franco’s scientist somewhat dispensable.

So I Married An Axe Murderer 1993 ***

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Mike Meyer’s could probably have made almost anything he wanted between Wayne’s World and Auston Powers; it’s delightful that he chose to make a film as off-beat, quirky and original as So I Married An Axe Murderer. Set against a sunny San Francisco vibe, Meyers plays Charlie Mackenzie, a poet who falls in love with Harriet (Nancy Travis), only to find out she has hidden and potentially deadly depths. Robbie Fox’s script appears to have been adapted to suit Meyer’s comic abilities, showcase beautifully in the hilarious beat-poetry scenes and in the evocation of Charlie’s Scottish family, red-haired, football loving abrasive characters who take the comedy beyond stereotypes to surreal levels. Great support from Alan Arkin and Anthony LaPaglia help make this a minor comic gem.