Cross to Bear

BFI Flare

Jump, Darling (2021)

Oscar Wilde once said that no man becomes like his mother, which is his tragedy. But what writer-director Phil Connell’s film presupposes, what if he becomes like his grandmother?

Russell (Thomas Duplessie) is a resting actor who refuses to work more than one shift a week in a Toronto drag bar called Peckers (devastatingly, this is not a real place). On his 31st birthday he receives a card from his grandmother Margaret (Cloris Leachman, in one of her final roles) offering him her car if he comes to Prince Edward Island to collect it. So when his partner Justin (Andrew Bushell) calls him an embarrassment and dumps him, Russell takes his last money and shows up on Margaret’s doorstep. Russell loses little time in writing himself a large check from his grandmother’s checkbook, but a mishap with the car shortly followed by a mishap of Margaret’s means he decides to stay with her a while.

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And Then There Were None

BFI Flare

Dramarama (2021)

What are five 18-year-old virgins to do their last night together before they depart for college? A night when they are entirely alone in a house that also has a swimming pool?

Well, whatever you’re thinking, they don’t do any of that. A lot of moms will be happy for this movie to be shown at a lot of theater-kid sleepovers, but it’s unclear if “Dramarama” wanted to be anything beyond a note-perfect nostalgia trip. On Twitter this critic routinely sees 20ish gay influencers, with complete sincerity, call anyone gay over 40 an “elder” and casually discuss how we’re still trapped in the closet since all our friends are dead from AIDS. Will anyone with that mindset actually care about how much things have changed since 1994, when “Dramarama” is set? Can someone who can’t believe gayness existed 27 years ago be able to sympathize with the struggles of someone in a world that can’t even see him in the first place, much less carefully sub-categorize him?

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Offline Connection

BFI Flare

Sweetheart (2021)

The British seaside movie is normally a house of horrors. There are vampires (“Byzantium”), human trafficking (“London to Brighton”), exploitation (“Brighton Rock” in all its guises), drug deals gone awry (“Away”), kidnapping and torture (“The Scouting Book for Boys”), and violence in all its forms (“Quadrophenia” being the granddaddy of them all). “Sweetheart” triumphantly breaks the mold by being about exactly none of these things. It is such a relief to see a movie set on the English coast where the worst thing that happens is a fancy-dress night in the pub.

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Negative Action

Lou Nakasako/Sundance Institute

Try Harder! (2021)

The documentary “Try Harder!” speaks the quiet part out loud: Cards have long been stacked in academia against Asian Americans. Director Debbie Lum presents these inequities as the facts of life that they are, of which non-Asians who benefit must be acutely aware but prefer not to give the game away.

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Lone Wolf

Sean Ellis/Sundance Institute

Eight for Silver (2021)

“Eight for Silver” is a period horror film in more than one sense: It’s a werewolf picture set in the 19th century; and it’s the type of quality midbudget Gothic horror indie distributors used to pick up from Europe and that you never knew existed until happening upon their sun-faded sleeves (complete with Worldvision Enterprises logo) on the shelves of rental stores. Those went near extinct as the Coppola “Dracula” and the Branagh “Frankenstein” jumped the shark in the early 1990s, and with good reason. First came the wave of high concept meta-horror, and then low-budget “Blair Witch” types flooded our streaming-killed-the-video-star present day.

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Hot Fuzz

Jake Polonsky/Sundance Institute

The Sparks Brothers (2021)

“The Sparks Brothers” is an Edgar Wright documentary; and fun is the operative word. No stodginess allowed! Unlike the incredibly tedious “Summer of Soul (. . . or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)” that also premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Mr. Wright seizes every opportunity to make this a lively experience – yes, he is not above IDing talking heads Nick Rhodes and John Taylor as Duran and Duran.

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Burning Question

Getty Images/Sundance Institute

Bring Your Own Brigade (2021)

A documentary on the California wildfires is certainly much needed, but “Bring Your Own Brigade” falls short in its quest to seek cogent answers. There is unsettling cell phone footage of homes and vehicles stuck in traffic enveloped by engulfing flames, with people trapped inside and presumably being burned alive. Those scenes are devastating indeed. While the film recognizes there may be more than one root cause, it unintentionally calls into question the legitimacy of possible culprits it manages to identify.

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Can't See the Forest


In the Earth (2021)

“In the Earth” can be best summarized as the pandemic version of “Annihilation.” Of course there’s more to it, but not much. And by more to it, we mean that the film isn’t entirely committed to one antagonist – it’s the deadly virus, strange things in the woods, a slasher and occult horror all rolled into one. But quantity often isn’t quality.

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Survival of the Unfittest

Kristen Correll

The Fallout (2021)

Revolving around the aftermath of a school shooting, “The Fallout” feels at once remote, thanks to Covid-19-mandated distance learning during the 2020 school year, yet urgent, due to mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., in early 2021.

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Double Lives

Giulio Biccari

The Lost Sons (2021)

Not every film should be made. There are obvious reasons why Paul Fronczak’s story deserves to be told; and over the course of the film it becomes brutally clear why he needs to tell the story, and yet. Some stories people are just not ready to tell, not now and maybe not ever.

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