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For all intents and purposes it seems that this week cinema is officially back, with the wide release of Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated ‘time inversion’ thriller Tenet. For those who aren’t so keen on heading back to theatres just yet however, there’s still an immense amount of choice when it comes to new releases.
Among those are Amy Seimetz’s haunting and strangely timely psychological horror film She Dies Tomorrow and Xavier Dolan’s return to form with Matthias and Maxime. There’s also plenty of big entertainment that rivals the scale of a Nolan actioner - and that much is apparent in the title of Magic Mike XXL, the supremely entertaining exhibition of Hollywood’s hottest.
Showcasing the might of the human body in a different manner is the final instalment in Donnie Yen’s Ip Man series, which has seen the charismatic martial artist fight everyone from the Japanese Imperial Army to… Mike Tyson, for some reason. It’s brawn over brains for sure, but that doesn’t make the sight of Donnie Yen obliterating someone any less entertaining. Deadly diseases aside, unless Tenet has kung-fu and/or dance sequences set to Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’, I think I’ll be staying at home.
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She Dies Tomorrow - BFI Player
In this latest film by actor, screenwriter and director Amy Seimetz, a woman’s conviction that she will die tomorrow spreads like a contagion through a town. It feels eerily appropriate for the current moment – not just because of isolation under the pandemic but for the general fear and paranoia that comes with the practice of ‘doomscrolling’, browsing through awful news on the internet in an almost hypnotic trance, even through you’re guaranteed to despair about it. The quiet but constantly encroaching and ethereal sense of doom that slowly claims each character is oddly terrifying and cathartically relatable, like an onscreen exorcism of the worst thoughts in one’s head. A strange, beguiling watch, but one of the year’s best and most definitive films.
Also new on BFI Player this week: A Snake of June, Catch Me Daddy
Matthias and Maxime - MUBI
French Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan has returned to form with Matthias and Maxime, after a couple of misfires with It’s Only The End of the World and The Life and Death of John F. Donovan. It’s probably his most mature work to date, though all the hallmarks of a Dolan film are still there: raw emotional sincerity, gay love, extremely complicated mother/son relationships.
The film follows two childhood best friends, who are asked to share a kiss for the purposes of some bad student short film. But moment sets something off for both, the rest of the film becoming about their self discovering and their changing social circle. It’s a simpler plot than Dolan has written in recent years, and he’s better for it - a solid resetting of the palette, and an often moving moving film to boot.
Also new on MUBI this week: A Couch in New York, Anbessa
Vivarium - Shudder
On their search for the perfect home, a couple visit a new house in a labyrinthine suburban neighbourhood. When they attempt to leave, each road mysteriously takes them back to where they started, trapping them in a surreal nightmare. The housing development where they find themselves trapped, forebodingly named ‘Yonder’, is a sea of identical, pastel green homes, with a canned, artificial feeling to every interior space. Even the sky above their heads looks like it came prefabricated.
The second feature from director Lorcan Finnegan, Vivarium is a grotesque and often quite funny parody of human ritual that leans heavily into that sense of artificiality. The very idea of the domestic space is turned into a site of horror, as the central couple Gemma (a fierce Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg, who turns his usual nerviness into rather terrifying rage) are given no way out of a creepy maze of starter homes. Once the mysterious order is received to raise an otherworldly child, the film embarks on some grim observations about the ongoing ideal of the nuclear family and suburban living with some brutal and unpredictable set-pieces.
Also new on Shudder this week: Perfect, Random Acts of Violence
Magic Mike XXL - Prime Video
A sequel to the Steven Soderbergh drama Magic Mike, a surprisingly sober (and great) film that was more about response to the financial crisis than it was about the ogling of toned male bodies as the trailers promised. As the XXL in the title promises, the sequel is a more outsized take on the material that leans more into that male stripper fantasy, comprised as a series of increasingly ludicrous set pieces (watch out for Jada Pinkett Smith running a male strip club out of a mansion).
Now directed by Soderbergh’s longtime producer Gregory Jacobs (though Soderbergh remains on cinematography and editing duties), it couldn’t be more different from its predecessor, focusing in on the amazement and desires of the women who perceive the male entertainers, in a wholly empathetic way that is too rarely seen in mainstream American cinema. It’s far more of a spectacle, leaving behind dramatic stakes purely for the sake of some good, sexually progressive fun. A sight to behold, and the kind of straightforward joy we could all use right now.
Also new on Prime Video this week: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Plants, What A Girl Wants
Ip Man 4: The Finale - Netflix
Aka: Ip Man goes to Cali! Set in 1964, this last entry in director Wilson Yip’s fictionalised version of the life of the famous Wing Chun master Ip Man (played by Donnie Yen) takes him abroad to America. There, he meets up with student Bruce Lee (Danny Chan, reprising his role from Ip Man 3), as well as a number of people in the Chinese diaspora, including first and second generation immigrants suffering from racism and threats of deportation at the hands of the Americans. The film then introduces a number of personal struggles for Ip Man - to regain the trust of his son, his fight with throat cancer, as well as constant contest from brash Americans (who as a whole, mostly oscillate between pantomime villains and the more real, racist kind here, both of which feel appropriate).
The film also comes back down to that initial inciting conflict of the first Ip Man movie - whether or not kung fu is better than karate something decided in various spectacular martial arts bouts, performed in quiet back alleys and in wide open stages in front of a gawping audience. Each sequence is a display of graceful and sometimes brutal choreography, performed with the typical poise from longtime lead Yen and his co-stars, moving from the simple displays of strength from earlier in the series to wonder about martial arts as a form of communication (and also as a tool to fight racism against the Chinese diaspora). Only this time, that Japanese martial art has been adopted by the Americans (including one Scott Adkins, hamming it up in a villain role as a racist Gunnery Sergeant who also knows karate).
Everything you’d expect from an Ip Man movie - garish lighting and colour grading, bad Western Actors and some melodrama that all stops mattering when its extremely talented martial artists start kicking an unholy amount of ass.
Also new on Netflix this week: Venom, Demolition Man