PVT Chat: Film Review

PVT Chat

Julia Fox stars as an online dominatrix who becomes the victim of an obsessive customer in Ben Hozie‘s annoyingly titled PVT Chat.

*MILD SPOILERS*

Fox plays Scarlet, a dominatrix cam girl who claims to live in San Francisco. One of her most frequent and well-paying customers is Jack (Peter Vack), a lonely and sad gambler in New York who plays blackjack for a living and has hardly any friends, so he turns to cam girls for conversation as well as to fulfil his sexual desires, which include being verbally abused as he jerks off. He becomes obsessed with Scarlet, particularly once he stumbles across her in a Chinatown bodega and realises she doesn’t live in California at all.

The film begins with Jack’s perspective, with us only seeing Scarlet on the screen of his laptop, and then about halfway through, it flips and gives us an insight into Scarlet’s life; who she is off the camera and outside of her dominatrix persona. This perspective switch was a great technique and I liked that we, as the audience, only saw Scarlet as her cam girl self – the same way Jack only gets to see her – in the beginning, before being shown this whole other side of her. Camming is just what she does to make money and she uses Jack’s obsession to her advantage in that regard.

I was excited about this premise because it felt like a recipe for a deliciously dark and gritty third act so I was ultimately disappointed. I had an idea of where it was going to go – or where I wanted it to go – and it didn’t go there, although I should probably give it praise for not going down the obvious path and taking the audience by surprise. The direction the story took towards the end was unexpected but also less impactful; I felt really meh about it and didn’t really understand what the ending meant. If you can call ‘just stopping’ an ending, that is. I really hate ambiguous endings and this is a prime example of one.

Even though I knew this was an erotic drama and would probably have a lot of sexual content, this was way more explicit than I was prepared for! There’s a lot of penis shots and some on-camera full-frontal male masturbation, which I naively thought – based on my outdated BBFC ratings knowledge – wasn’t allowed in 18 films. Clearly, I was wrong! Kudos to Vack for having the bravery to do that on film! He does well as this desperate, sad, loner type who is into some weird s**t, while Fox, who was a dominatrix for six months while she was in high school in real life, brings her sex appeal as on-camera Scarlet and more vulnerability and humanity as off-camera Scarlet.

PVT Chat – I really hate the title – is a scuzzy and dirty low-budget erotic drama with two strong lead performances. I will happily watch more films that explore the relationship between a cam girl and her clientele but this particular movie didn’t work for me story-wise.

Released on digital platforms from Friday 12th February

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dead Pigs: Film Review

Dead Pigs

Cathy Yan‘s debut feature Dead Pigs received critical acclaim and caught the attention of Margot Robbie when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and landed her a blockbuster directing gig in the form of 2020’s Birds of Prey – but then it never got released. Finally, after three years, Dead Pigs is coming out.

The film follows the trials and tribulations of an odd mix of people, as thousands of dead pigs mysteriously float down the river towards Shanghai, something which actually happened in 2013. There’s Xia Xia (Meng Li), who crashes her car after a night out at a restaurant and ends up in hospital; Wang Zhen (Mason Lee), who finds her phone and helps her out while she’s hospitalised and also likes to get into accidents to make money; his father Old Wang (Haoyu Yang), who is up to his neck in debts and his pigs have all mysteriously died; and his sister Candy Wang (Vivian Wu), a prized pigeon-keeping beautician who is refusing to sell her house to a redevelopment company and stays in her property as an act of protest when its the only house still standing in the proposed new site.

Dead Pigs is a darkly funny and quirky social satire which deals with themes such as social change, globalisation, capitalism and the increasing inequality of wealth and employs a random assortment of characters, who are all developed well, thanks to Yan’s impressive screenplay. She makes bizarre choices in places though, for example, a random musical number that comes out of nowhere with singalong lyrics onscreen. What the hell? I was so baffled by this decision.

The most interesting storyline was Candy Wang, a beauty parlour owner who refuses to leave her home in case it gets knocked down, like the rest of her old neighbourhood. The Golden Happiness company are confident she will sell at the right price, considering she is now surrounded by rubble, but she cannot be bought – she was born and raised in that house and it has sentimental value, whereas her brother is a sad pathetic drunk who begs her to sell to help him out of his hole. Zazie Beetz also has a small and inconsequential appearance, so don’t be mislead into thinking she “stars” in this, because she really doesn’t.

Dead Pigs is a real mixed bag and a bit too long, so it didn’t completely gel for me, but it’s a strong debut feature from Yan – I’m not surprised she got hired for a big-budget movie (one on a whole other level in terms of scale) off the back of it.

Released globally (except China) on MUBI on Friday 12th February

Rating: 3 out of 5.

News of the World: Netflix Film Review

News of the World

I love Tom Hanks – who doesn’t?! – so I happily tuned into News of the World, even though Westerns aren’t my favourite genre, and was rewarded by a heartwarming central relationship and an emotionally affecting ending.

Reuniting with his Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass, Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who has been travelling from town to town reading the news to locals following the end of the Civil War five years before. The year is 1870 and Captain Kidd is setting off from Wichita Falls in Texas following a reading and comes across a hanged man, an overturned wagon and a young blonde-haired girl dressed in Native American clothing who is unable to speak English. He discovers official papers that reveal Johanna (Helena Zengel) is a German orphan who has been living with the Kiowa tribe for the past six years after they killed her family and kidnapped her. She was in the process of being taken back to her aunt and uncle in Castroville, some 400 miles away. After the authorities aren’t much help, Kidd eventually decides to return her himself.

News of the World is basically a story of two people getting from point A to point B and moves along at a slow and leisurely pace. But it’s never boring because I liked watching the Captain and Johanna slowly form a connection and something like a father-daughter bond, despite the language and cultural barriers. Their relationship is the key here and the movie’s greatest strength, but the journey would still be quite dull if there weren’t any hurdles along the way, so thankfully, there are some tense encounters with antagonists to up the thrill factor. The stakes during these moments didn’t feel too high though because, you know, it’s Hanks! He’s got to succeed and save the day! He’s the hero and he really goes above and beyond to protect a child he barely knows, even when his life is in danger and he’d have less stress if he just cut her loose.

Hanks is reliably excellent as the good-natured captain and warm-hearted paternal figure, but the revelation here is Zengel. The 12-year-old German star – who gained notice with her lead performance in 2019 German movie System Crasher – recently earned Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG nominations for her supporting role and it’s easy to see why. She’s a marvel as the fiery Johanna and doesn’t let the side down when paired with a seasoned Hollywood veteran like Hanks. Johanna tends to speak Kiowa first, so Zengel had to grapple with a new language in addition to everything else. She’s a quiet, insular person who keeps speech to a minimum but you know exactly what she’s thinking as her face says it all and her acting in the latter stretch is terrific.

News of the World, written by Greengrass and Luke Davies, has stunning cinematography depicting the dusty Texas plains and a strong central relationship that I cared about. Yes, it’s possibly a bit too slow but your patience will be rewarded with an extremely satisfying emotional payoff at the end. I’ve seen it twice and it’s even better the second time around.

Streaming on Netflix from Wednesday 10th February

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Rams: Film Review

Rams

As a massive Jurassic Park fan, I will watch Sam Neill in anything, hence why I ended up checking out Rams. I genuinely thought I was signing up for an oddball comedy about sheep farmers but it turned out to have far more heart than I was expecting.

Neill plays Colin, who runs a sheep farm literally next door to his estranged brother Les (Michael Caton). Despite their physical closeness, the neighbouring brothers couldn’t be more distant – they haven’t spoken in years following a rift. When Les’ prized ram is diagnosed with a rare and lethal illness, all farmers in the remote Mount Barker region of Western Australia are ordered to kill their flocks to prevent the spread and their livelihoods are put at risk, but Colin opts to secretly outwit the Department of Agriculture officials and Les goes for angry defiance of the rules. Can the warring brothers set aside their differences to save the family’s prized flock?

I was expecting a simple-minded raucous comedy about sheep, but Rams, a remake of the 2015 Icelandic film of the same name, is far more warm and charming than I was prepared for. It has quite a few funny moments and some great animal acting scenes – particularly with the top-secret sheep cover-up plan – but they sit within the context of a much more down-to-earth rural drama which focuses on the themes of family, communication, and community. It becomes even more tender and heartfelt nearer the end when a bushfire looms on the horizon, threatening livelihoods already decimated by the sheep disease even further.

Neill is well cast as the affable brother, who is well-liked in town, friendly with the other local farmers and likes to tell his sheep they’re beautiful, while Caton plays his polar opposite as Les. He’s gruff, rough, and a loner who often likes to drink too much and fall into a stupor in the scorching Australia sun. They’re surrounded by a great support cast too, from Miranda Richardson as British vet Kat and Asher Keddie as fellow farmer Angela.

There’s a lot more to Rams, directed by Jeremy Sims, than I was expecting. There’s a great mix of comedy and drama, uplifting moments and sad ones, and I cared about the story and characters more than I thought I would when I first saw the marketing materials. Don’t let them deceive you!

Available on digital platforms from Friday 5th February

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Malcolm & Marie: Netflix Film Review

Malcolm & Marie

I love Zendaya and her work with Sam Levinson on Euphoria so I had high hopes for their lockdown project Malcolm & Marie and went in really wanting to love it. But I had a lot of problems with it.

The film opens with Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya) coming home from the premiere of his new movie. It has been a great success and looks to be the defining film of his career, so naturally, Malcolm is on cloud nine, but Marie is clearly unhappy about something. Their argument begins because he failed to thank her in his speech, even though she was the inspiration for his film, and escalates from there throughout the night.

Because this film is so simplistic (it’s literally just two people arguing in a house), there is nowhere to hide – you have to bring your A-game or the whole thing falls apart, and thankfully, both leads do. Washington plays this passionate hot-headed man who says hurtful things just for the sake of being mean, but Zendaya is far more effective as her rage is simmering below the surface and she generally keeps her voice quiet and controlled. She is sensational; she shows off her impressive range and is the emotional centre of the story. Washington doesn’t let the side down and serves as a great sparring partner, but his character could have done with more nuance and texture as he was like a bulldozer in comparison to Zendaya’s Marie.

I also loved the concept, how the entirety of the house is used throughout the movie, the music by Labrinth, plus their entrance and initial conversation about the reception to his movie. I enjoyed how their argument evolved and how the power dynamics shifted over the course of the film and I thought Marie was written very well.

However, Levinson’s screenplay loses its way when it goes off on a tangent from the central focus of their relationship. He’s clearly got a lot to say about film critics and there is a section in Malcolm & Marie in which Washington lets rip and goes off on this long stream of consciousness rant about a review and I couldn’t help but feel Levinson was using Malcolm as a stand-in to unleash his personal agenda on a critic in real life. This rant went on far too long and felt unnecessary. This is where I started to lose my patience with the film.

Malcolm & Marie is a trying and exhausting film because you are simply watching a couple arguing, yelling, and verbally abusing each other for almost two hours. There are moments of peace here and there but otherwise, it’s pretty relentless, so the whole thing should have been much shorter. It’s A LOT. I wouldn’t call it an enjoyable watch but I can appreciate many elements about it, most notably Zendaya’s performance. This was clearly designed as a showcase for her talents and what an impressive showcase it is!

Streaming on Netflix from Friday 5th February

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Capote Tapes: Film Review

The Capote Tapes

Considering he’s one of America’s most iconic writers, I knew the name Truman Capote and his most famous novels – Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood – but shamefully little else, so The Capote Tapes was a fascinating and enlightening experience.

With unprecedented access to journalist George Plimpton’s taped interviews for his 1997 biography, Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career, director Ebs Burnough crafts a documentary which tells the story of Capote’s childhood and his career achievements, shows how he was unapologetically gay and camp before it was accepted by society, how he became the darling of the New York literary scene and popular member of the cafe society crowd, and how he used these connections to write a shocking tell-all book that ultimately became his downfall (and was never published in full).

In addition to audio clips from his old society friends like Babe Paley and Lee Radziwill and fellow novelist Norman Mailer, the documentary features loads of archival footage of Capote as well as new interviews with novelists Dotson Rader and Colm Toibin and former Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley. They might be the famous contributors but the most interesting interviewee by far was Kate Harrington, the daughter of one of Capote’s lovers, John O’Shea. Harrington, who sees the author as an adoptive father figure, speaks in detail for the first time about life with Capote and offers up fascinating gems. She appears throughout the documentary to add personal insight to the events of his life and give us an idea of what his reaction was in private at the time.

I knew very little about Capote – I didn’t even know he spoke like that! – so I found The Capote Tapes illuminating, informative, and compelling. Even if you were more clued up – after all, this isn’t the first documentary about him or the first time he’s been played onscreen (most notably by Philip Seymour Hoffman) – it’s still worth a watch as it offers a fresh and deeply interesting insight into his life thanks to the tapes and access to Harrington.

Available at altitude.film and on all digital platforms across the UK and Ireland from 29 January

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Dig: Netflix Film Review

The Dig

Admittedly there’s another Carey Mulligan film that I’d rather be watching, but The Dig is a decent consolation prize.

The Dig is based on John Preston‘s novel, which reimagines the events surrounding the real-life excavation of the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk, England in 1939. Mulligan stars as Edith Pretty, a widower who hires self-taught excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to dig up the mysterious mounds in her fields. Once they uncover an Anglo-Saxon ship, the discovery becomes big news and archaeologists descend upon the site, hoping to claim it for either the British Museum or the Ipswich Museum. These include married couple Stuart and Peggy Piggott (Ben Chaplin and Lily James), while Edith calls up her cousin Rory (Johnny Flynn) to help.

Watching people dig up dirt and meticulously move soil around to find long-buried artefacts is painfully dull and slow so Simon Stone has brought some excitement with the characters, from Edith’s secret illness, Stuart and Peggy’s troubled marriage, to Basil’s fight to lead the dig when the academic archaeologists want to take over, not to mention the threat of World War II looming in the background.

Even still, The Dig is still just a simple, gentle and pleasant affair. It looks gorgeous, with some stunning cinematography depicting the English countryside and the dig site, which is amazing to look at when it’s finished, but there’s not enough substance to grab onto, hook us in, and make us really care about the story. Not every film needs high-stakes drama to work, but this needed a little more oomph.

Mulligan is no stranger to period dramas and she is a strong lead as the refined and outwardly stoic Edith, who tries to keep up appearances despite her illness, while Fiennes was an interesting choice for the unorthodox local man. I wasn’t totally convinced by his accent but Brown, despite his seemingly grouchy nature at first, becomes the most likeable towards the end. I liked how his friendship developed with Edith and how he provided a father-type figure for her son Robert (Archie Barnes). James and Flynn’s storyline was too obvious to really work but they did a fine enough job.

The Dig is an easy Sunday afternoon type of film. It’s harmless, inoffensive and pleasant, but it’s just missing a bit of excitement.

On Netflix from Friday 29th January

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Twist: Film Review

Twist

Charles Dickens’ classic novel Oliver Twist has been brought to life onscreen many times – and here’s the latest version – Twist – which brings it bang up to date with a modern London take.

This crime drama stars Rafferty Law as Twist, an orphan who likes free running and is a skilled street artist. His skills catch the attention of Dodge (Rita Ora) and Batesey (Franz Drameh), petty criminals who work for Fagin (Michael Caine). Fagin takes Twist in and offers him a home and a family – but it comes with a price; he must help them pull off a big art heist against his enemy Losberne (David Walliams). Twist also develops feelings for Red, real name Nancy (Sophie Simnett), and that puts him directly in the firing line of the loose cannon Sikes (Lena Headey).

Besides the recognisable character names and the relationships between them being similar, Twist is very different to the original Oliver Twist and it hardly ever felt familiar, which is good as that means it’s treading new ground and not telling the story we’ve seen many many times, but it also made me wonder what the point of connecting it to Twist was. If you changed the characters’ names, it has very little in common with it.

The film has a lot of energy, with frenetic camerawork following Twist and Red as they enjoy free running and a cool upbeat soundtrack, but it is more focused on keeping the action going and pushing the story forward than giving the characters depth, motives for their actions, or creating a screenplay that’s easy to follow. Considering the story is relatively straightforward, I struggled to keep up with the twists and turns of the heist and who had outsmarted whom, and I also didn’t understand why Sikes was the way she was.

Playing a Cockney geezer isn’t much of a stretch for Caine, who has starred in a Dickens movie adaptation before (The Muppet Christmas Carol), so this role wasn’t exactly taxing, but he was still perfectly cast as Fagin, the fatherly figure in the crime collective. Law – who looks so much like his dad Jude Law – was the likeable moral compass, Drameh was entertaining as Batesey, and Simnett was my favourite as Red/Nancy, who had the biggest heart. I haven’t seen Walliams in a film in a while and he made me smile as the hapless victim of their scheme.

My least favourite was Ora because I couldn’t stop thinking she was Ora – I never once believed she was Dodge, and Headey went way overboard playing the menacing, out-of-control Sikes. I didn’t believe the performance at all, but that could also be down to the screenplay not giving Sikes enough background or motivation behind her actions.

I liked how the classic Twist tale has been given a modern update with gender-flipped, more diverse characters and an LGBTQ storyline, and it was an enjoyable enough watch but I struggled to keep up with it and forgot about it instantly.

Available on Sky Cinema from Friday 29th January

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Synchronic: Film Review

Synchronic

I love a sci-fi and I’m a huge fan of both Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie but I’ve got to say that Synchronic is a classic example of me loving the idea but not the execution.

Dornan and Mackie are Dennis and Steve, two paramedics and longtime best friends who start to encounter people either dead or in a strange state during their shifts and discover it’s the result of a new designer drug in town – Synchronic. After Dennis’ teenage daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) goes missing, Steve makes the ultimate sacrifice and takes the drug himself – with unexpected consequences.

I had really high hopes in the beginning because I found their introductory scene, in which they investigate a crime scene, interesting and it immediately grabbed my attention and I also liked getting to know their brother-like bond, but my enjoyment disappeared fairly soon after Steve started taking Synchronic. I assume these sci-fi time-travel scenes are supposed to be the standout portion of the movie but I found them repetitive, tedious, and I mentally checked out a bit. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead failed to bring it back for me from there. Those time travel scenes were just bonkers and I don’t think they made sense.

I actually preferred the more dramatic human side of the film, with Dennis dealing with his teenage daughter’s disappearance and the birth of his second child, while Steve, a ladies’ man and alcoholic, is processing some tragic news which he is yet to tell his best buddy about. I cared far more about that than the sci-fi scenes.

I can’t fault the actors, who do well with what they’re given, but Synchronic just didn’t work for me.

On digital platforms including Amazon, Sky, Google, Virgin, BT, Rakuten, Chili, Xbox, Curzon Home Cinema, and Showcase at Home from Friday 29th January

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Baby Done: Film Review

Baby Done

If you’re in the mood for a good hearty laugh then look no further than New Zealand’s latest comedy Baby Done.

The movie stars comedian Rose Matafeo as Zoe, who completely freaks out when she discovers she’s pregnant and goes into major denial mode. She sees herself as a fun, carefree, wild person and is scared of becoming a “boring” mum, even though she wants a baby. She feels like she hasn’t ticked all her planned adventures off her bucket list and attempts to rush through her dreams before the baby arrives, while her boyfriend Tim (Matthew Lewis) embraces fatherhood and goes into nesting mode.

Baby Done is written by Sophie Henderson and directed by her husband Curtis Vowell and is a semi-autobiographical story inspired by their own reaction to starting a family, and you can tell because it feels so personal and well-observed. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to Zoe’s panicked reaction of feeling like they haven’t achieved anything with their life before becoming a parent, but here, it’s heightened for the sake of comedy.

It takes a turn in the third act that I didn’t care for so much. Zoe went from being relatable and believable to being unreasonable, annoying, and quite immature and silly. It wasn’t enough to turn me off the film completely though as her ridiculous antics were still entertaining and thankfully, it circled back to a satisfying conclusion.

Matafeo is hilarious and charming and she was well-matched with Lewis, who I have never seen act outside of a Harry Potter film! He was absolutely lovely and the mature and solid centre of the film, while Matafeo does her freaking out. I also really enjoyed Emily Barclay (who I recognised from Babyteeth) as Zoe’s wild best friend Molly; she made me laugh the most as her line delivery is just incredible.

Baby Done is a sweet, charming, and enjoyable film that I would highly recommend if you fancy a fun uplifting watch.

Baby Done is available on digital platforms like iTunes, Amazon, Sky, Virgin, Google / YouTube, Rakuten, BT, Playstation, Microsoft, Curzon Home Cinema, and BFI Player from Friday 22nd January

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.