Beach Rats (2017)

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★★★★

“I don’t know what I like,” admits Frankie (Harris Dickinson) towards the start of this dark and dreamy drama. A Brooklyn teenager spending a summer avoiding his father’s sickbed, Frankie escapes his depressing home life by smoking spliffs with his buddies and hitting the boardwalk to raise hell.

He’s also on a brooding journey of self-discovery. What /does/ Frankie like and why is it so hard for him to accept? It’s a rare film that addresses such vast questions in so uncompromising a way, but director Eliza Hittman accomplishes exactly that with Beach Rats.

We quickly learn that Frankie’s real passions lie with members of the same sex. He surfs gay webcam sites at night before agreeing to meet up with an older man. After a passionate woodsy encounter, he goes back to hanging with his surfer bros and even acquires a girlfriend in shop-worker Simone (Madeline Weinstein).

But it’s clear Frankie’s just treading water, uncertain how to process these new desires. “Two girls can make out and it’s hot,” says Simone. “Two guys make out and it’s gay.”

Though shrewd, exchanges like these are infrequent. With the bare minimum in dialogue, Hittman instead focusses on every part of Frankie’s body in a study that’s refreshingly, even brutally honest.

Brit up-and-comer Dickinson is magnetic as the young tearaway, his sea-blue eyes both curious and troubled, and the role’s exposing in every way possible, from a glimpse of a flaccid cock when Frankie fools around with Simone, to a final confrontation that fizzes with fusillade emotion. This isn’t necessarily a coming-out drama destined for a happy ending, but it’s captivating nonetheless.

This review originally appeared in Crack magazine.

For A Good Time, Call (2012)

If Bridesmaids proved anything, it’s that the girls can be just as filthy/depraved/unsubtle (delete where applicable) as the boys.

Taking that insight and dialling up the dirty, Jamie Travis’ comedy sees ex-college frenemies Lauren (Lauren Miller) and Katie (Ari Graynor) launch their own amateur phone-sex line: 1-877-MMM-HMM.

All right, it’s not up there with Bridesmaids but, thanks to a game Graynor (here channelling a young Bette Midler), a revolving door of cameos and some gloriously smutty pillow talk, For A Good Time delivers, yes, exactly that.

Via Total Film

Room 237 (2012)

Named after the creepy hotel room in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, this quirky indie documentary takes a left-field approach to film analysis. Stitching together footage from Kubrick’s considerable ouvre and recontextualising it to pick apart The Shining, various Kubrickites examine the supposed hidden messages contained in Kubrick’s terrifying tale of madness. It could be a recipe for disaster, but given the great director’s notoriety for poring meticulously over every little detail, it works surprisingly well.

Off-the-wall theories include one guy’s argument that The Shining is an apology from Kubrick for ‘faking’ the Apollo 13 moon landing footage. While that’s undeniably out there, more traditional analysis – like a look at how the director used shapes and fades to create patterns on the screen – are more difficult to rubbish, and provide a greater understanding of just how much thought Kubrick really did put into his celluloid masterpieces.

Despite the frequently outrageous claims offered up, there’s little room for mocking the theorists, and director Rodney Ascher is content to let them recite their hypotheses without judging either way. The result is a rich tapestry of ideas that speaks just as much about our continued obsession with The Shining as it does about film obsessives with too much time on their hands. Kubrick would be proud. And probably a little baffled. 4/5

Via Out In The City

Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012)

One of the boldest and most original films to screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Beasts of the Southern Wild picked up both the Grand Jury Prize and the Cinematography Award at the closing night ceremony after surfing a roaring wave of positive buzz. And we doubt it’s going to stop there – this most auspicious of enviro-fantasies is Oscar-bound, and when it lands it’s sure to cause as much wonton destruction as its impressive central storm scene.

A tantalising hybrid of rugged fantasy, character drama and disaster epic, Beasts is a an enchanting oddity that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. At its heart is six-year-old Hushpuppy (newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis) who lives in a Southern delta community called ‘The Bathtub’ (because floods are a daily threat). When her tough love father Wink (Dwight Henry) falls ill, Hushpuppy sets off in search of her mother on a quest to put the world to rights again.

All bristly impudence and pouty bottom lip, Wallis gives a blistering central performance that imbues Beasts with a crude and affecting mood. Raw talent like this is gold dust in the movie industry, and Wallis carries the film with ease, her whimsical narration both quirky and stirring. She’s a fiery heroine, and leads a phenomenal cast of unknowns who are all equally impressive.

After a dreamy introduction, things really get going as a hurricane threatens The Bathtub (Hurricane Katrina is used as both a vague reference point and a thematic device throughout). Meanwhile, melting icecaps unleash giant, long-dormant monsters that charge across the globe towards our little welly-wearing heroine.

Part Where The Wild Things Are, part something else, Beasts is a feral, joyfully atypical fairytale. Debut director Benh Zeitlin – who adapted Lucy Alibar’s play Juicy and Delicious for the screen – creates a richly dilapidated world where you feel every creaking floorboard and every blast of wind.

True, it feels vaguely ostentatious at times, a consequence of its ambitious themes and dreamy language. “The entire universe depends on everything fitting together just right,” glowers Hushpuppy with wisdom beyond her years, just one of her remarkable if unrealistically mature observances.

Beasts, though, is the best kind of fantasy. Rooted in a believable, rough-and-tumble reality, its outlandish flourishes are grounded in stomach-flipping emotion. As told through the eyes of our young heroine, it makes a perfect kind of nonsense that defies explanation. It’s a draining, soaring, staggeringly original bit of storytelling that’s spellbinding from start to finish. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works