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Five Feet Apart

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Even for a medium as inherently manipulative as cinema, the recent young adult takeover of terminal romance (AKA sick-lit) pushes that boundary more than most. While it has given audiences some solid features like The Fault In Our Stars – the film that kickstarted the trend in earnest – that is still in spite of storytelling that is almost begging the audience to start tearing up. The latest in this trend, Five Feet Apart, isn’t annoying because it is manipulative. It’s annoying because it feels stuck between trying to wring honest engagement out of the proceedings, and just dovetailing the typical clichés of the genre.

For what works about this production, one needn’t look further than the main couple. While Cole Sprouse as the reclusive bad boy love interest is a little too on-the-nose as far as teenaged pandering is concerned, Haley Lu Richardson more than picks up the slack with a performance that demands empathy and entirely warrants it. Bonus points for having a main character with OCD and not completely adhering to wizened stereotyping about the condition, something followed with the story’s approach to the focal-point condition: Cystic fibrosis.

While most films in this genre are fixated with tying themselves to literary classics to give themselves a sense of importance, this film is more interested in the hard facts about the condition itself. And as a result, when it’s not highlighting the endearing cuteness of the main couple, it’s giving facts about CF, living with it and the paradoxical situation it puts people in. The one group of people that best understand what they’re going through (other people with CF) are the ones that they absolutely need to keep their distance from.

It emphasises the need for tactile contact, even in the face of worsening health, and by film’s end, it turns that need into something universal that goes beyond the diagnosis. This ends up declaring what defines sick-lit as a sub-genre: highlighting the romantic trials of the sick to give sentimental advice to the healthy. Manipulative as hell, but for the most part, it works.

However, for every moment that feels sincere, there’s another that adheres to the sick-lit doctrine. The near-endless montages set to sterilised dream-pop, the fear of character death as an impetus to feel something, not to mention the schmaltzpocalypse that is the entire third act, where any intention of emotional integrity goes right out the window; it’s still trying to push through a fog of familiarity to make any of it stick.

What results from all this is a film that highlights some of the best and some of the worst that the sub-genre has to offer. Its heart is in the right place, but its brain runs from it by the time we reach the third act. It’s still worth checking out, even if only to see Haley Lu Richardson stake her claim as an actress to keep an eye on, but it’d be easier to recommend if there was more consistency here.

 
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Anthony Maras: Why the World Needs Hotel Mumbai

The horrific Christchurch terrorist attacks may put off audiences from seeing the Australian film’s intense depiction of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but it’s the humanity at its heart and the mirror that it holds up to our society that makes it essential viewing.
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Geraldine Hakewill: The Real Deal

Things are getting real for the actress currently appearing as Peregrine Fisher in Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, and who also stars in The Pretend One, a feature film that she made in rural Queensland not long ago, and which is getting a cinema release this week.
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Truman Capote On Screen

With a special series of screenings of Breakfast At Tiffany’s coming up, we take a look at the big screen presence of that much loved classic’s author, Truman Capote.
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The Man Who Feels No Pain

Asian Cinema, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

This frenzied mish-mash of Bollywood musical, martial arts actioner and comic book origin tale is told with an eye towards western cinematic sensibilities and an affectionate reverence of filmic pop culture.

It follows the travails of Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani, son of Indian screen star Bhagyashree), a young man with a rare disorder that also proves very handy: he has a congenital insensitivity to pain. His ailments also include a requirement for constant hydration, which necessitates wearing a backpack that stores a ready supply of water, though it tends to run dry at inopportune moments, meaning Surya has to come up with creative ways to imbibe H2O.

Throughout his formative years, Surya exists on a diet of Kung Fu and action movies and he teaches himself martial arts moves so that he can dispense vengeance on the gang that robbed his mother when he was a young baby, killing her in the process. Surya is always at the side of his best friend and childhood crush Supri (Radhika Madan), whose father is a violent drunk, forcing Surya to teach him some knuckle-sandwich infused home truths, ultimately putting Supri’s father in the hospital.

As a young man, Surya yearns to meet his idol, a one-legged martial arts guru named Karate Mani (Gulshan Devaiah), and after meeting him, Surya soon encounters his scenery-chewing evil twin, Jimmy (also played by Gulshan Devaiah). Soon, the adult Surya and Supri must fight the fight of their lives, defending themselves against henchman and street scum alike as Surya struggles to realise his childhood dream of being an unstoppable, karate-chopping, leg-sweeping, force for justice on the streets of Mumbai.

At times it’s so tight you’d think Edgar Wright was sneaking into the edit room, at other times the sequences are languid and baggy. That said, the overwhelming sense of joy and fun that Vasan Bala is having here – name-checking his Hollywood influences and designing inventive and crazy fight sequences – is contagious (though the amount of scenes depicting children being beaten is positively Dickensian). Street locations are brightly decorated and colourfully lensed and the soundtrack is tacky and sweet, making this slice of Bollywood geekdom a ton of fun. The running time, as you would expect, is over two hours but the reward is in the journey and there’s lots of fun to be had in this alternately goofy, melodramatic and surreal chop-sock-rom-com.