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Review: Summerland

Set mostly during World War II, Summerland takes place on the beautiful and remote southern coast of England. Misanthropic writer Alice (Gemma Arterton, Vita & Virginia, Tamara Drewe) lives in a small village where the kids think she’s a witch, and the rest of the villagers leave her a wide berth. She’s fine with that since she’s hard at work writing while pining away for the loss of her one great love. Then one day she opens her door and a young boy named Frank (Lucas Bond) is there – an evacuee from London who expects to live with her. To say she’s reluctant to take him in would be a gross understatement. But of course she does and little by little they grow to care about one other. It’s a pretty familiar story, and it feels a bit like an episode of one of your favorite BBC series. But it’s also a pleasant, heart-warming diversion we can lose ourselves in for a time during this virus obsessed period.

Review: Denise Ho: Becoming the Song

This film could not be more timely. Just days ago the Chinese government passed a repressive national security law that essentially kills the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. I was probably watching this documentary at the same time it was happening. I’ll admit, I know nothing about Cantopop music. And I’d never heard of Denise Ho before I saw this film, but I’m a huge fan now. Not for her music, though some of it is quite beautiful, but for her heroic sacrifice in the name of democracy for Hong Kong. Denise Ho: Becoming the Song is the story of her rise to stardom alongside the story of Hong Kong’s history post-British rule, the creeping power grab by Beijing, and Ho’s evolution from pop star to activist. She’s truly an inspiration.

Review: Wild Nights with Emily

The Emily of the title is the 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson, long thought to be a delicate recluse who was afraid to publish her work. But that, the film tells us, is an entirely false narrative devised for profit after her death. In fact, Dickinson was a strong and passionate woman who carried on a life-long affair with a woman who was her childhood friend and later her sister-in-law who lived conveniently next door. Played by miscast SNL alum Molly Shannon, Emily is certainly an unconventional poet, but also an early women’s rights adherent pushing for women to have the same opportunities as men and to be taken just as seriously. While it is a potentially heavy subject, the film has a light tone, which works most of the time. It’s an odd little romcom that plays off the juxtaposition of Emily’s real life with the sanitized version told by Mabel Loomis Todd (Amy Seimetz), Emily’s brother’s sly mistress, who as her de facto biographer took great liberties with Dickinson’s legacy, despite having never actually met her.

The Handmaiden

Korean director Chan-wook Park’s (Oldboy) latest film The Handmaiden is an amazing adult thriller. It is twisty and erotic and romantic and funny and utterly surprising. And very hard to review because the many plot twists that make it so fun to watch have to be kept secret. No spoilers here. It is reminiscent of The Grifters or Sleuth with people trying to con one another from start to finish, and the audience’s assumptions proved wrong again and again. At its center is the story of a con artist The Count (Ha Jung-woo) who finds a job for one of his minions, pretty young Sookee (Tae-ri Kim), as the handmaid to a very rich and very attractive young Japanese woman Lady Hidekowith (Min-hee Kim) with the aim of his seducing and marrying her for her fortune. But needless to say, it doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Carol

The film Carol is gorgeous.The clothes, the sets, the cinematography. And the actresses – Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara – are both fabulous in this 1950s era forbidden love drama directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven) and adapted from a Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley) novel. It is a lesbian love story told more through furtive, adoring glances and unspoken understandings than big dramatic moments. It is languid storytelling, but somehow it is effective.

The Duke of Burgundy

This is definitely not a film for everyone. It is a very arty, beautifully shot story of a lesbian couple who enjoy a rich dominant/submissive sex life. But it is no Fifty Shades of Grey wannabe. Instead it is a surreal, sensual meditation on a loving relationship and lengths people will go to for the ones they love.

Blue is the Warmest Colour

La Vie d’Adèle—Chapitres 1 et 2 aka Blue is the Warmest Colour was the hit of this year’s Cannes Film Festival winning top honors and scoring its young stars Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos the first ever shared acting Palme d’Or. It also stirred up some controversy for its very graphic depiction of lesbian sex and the intensity of the film shoot for its two young actresses. But beyond the stories about the film, it is a beautiful movie exploring first love and longing, that watches a young woman come into her own.