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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 22.Jul.22

How to Please a Woman  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
How to Please a Woman
dir-scr Renee Webster
prd Tania Chambers, Judi Levine
with Sally Phillips, Erik Thomson, Alexander England, Cameron Daddo, Tasma Walton, Ryan Johnson, Josh Thomson, Caroline Brazier, Hayley McElhinney, Emily Rose Brennan, Nina Young, Myles Pollard
release Aus 19.May.22,
US 22.Jul.22
22/Australia 1h47

Is it streaming?

mcelhinney, walton, phillips and brazier
Sharply observant, this gentle Australian comedy focusses on a group of fit middle-aged women who are grappling with their unsatisfying sex lives. This pointed premise offers some insightful undercurrents from a female perspective, which helps make the film engaging even if the humour remains understated and director Renee Webster is oddly timid about depicting sexuality. This leaves things feeling somewhat draggy, although the deeper ideas hold the interest.
In Western Australia, Gina (Phillips) is annoyed that she has to work on her birthday. And she's so exhausted that when her friends send her hunky stripper Tom (England), she asks him to clean her house. Then when she loses her job, she hatches an idea to launch a company supplying hot male cleaners, starting with Tom. Gina's distant lawyer husband Adrian (Daddo) is dubious about this. So is she when it becomes clear that her bored housewife clients want more than a cleaner. And Gina's new employees have a lot to learn about women.
While female clients get off on the fantasy, the guys try to compensate with bravado. This creates witty interaction as Gina provides on-the-job training, both cleaning a house and providing service in a bedroom. Gina's clients are extremely forthright about their desires, which makes the film feel almost educational as these men learn how to be sensitive to their needs. So while the writing and direction often take too-easy routes through the material, there's plenty to enjoy along the way.

Each character has quirks that are endearing, stirring emotion and wry humour into the story. Phillips anchors the film beautifully as a woman who hasn't given up on life, even though it seems to be done with her. It's a complex role depicting real issues in a heartfelt way. The ensemble surrounding her creates strikingly vivid side characters, each of whom wins over the audience in his or her way. The absurdly handsome, charming England is a standout, as are Erik Thomson as a lovelorn colleague and McElhinney as a loyal friend.

While there are plenty of zinging one-liners, the film is never laugh-out-loud funny. So it ends up feeling more like a lighthearted drama with some deeper meaning woven through it, including a wide range of individualistic experiences and desires. A more raucously saucy take on this topic would have been much more entertaining, and might have driven the solid points home more provocatively. But it's a warm and honest reminder that we should never be ashamed about seeking pleasure.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 14.Jul.22

The Shuroo Retreat   aka The Shuroo Process
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
The Shuroo Retreat
dir Emrhys Cooper
scr-prd Donal Brophy, Emrhys Cooper
with Fiona Dourif, Donal Brophy, Taylor Bagley, Tommy Dorfman, Emrhys Cooper, Rainey Qualley, Olivia Sui, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Cornelia Guest, Lynn Mancinelli, Jeff Hephner, Rachel McDowall
release US 24.Nov.21,
UK 25.Jul.22
21/US 1h35

Is it streaming?

sui, guest, cooper, kae-kazim, qualley and brophy
A sharply pointed sense of humour infuses this comedy-drama about a frazzled journalist on a self-actualisation weekend, unsure whether to better herself or write up a scathing expose. The characters bristle with quirky personality, which fuels their interaction and propels the story in some cleverly provocative directions. And actor-filmmakers Emrhys Cooper and Donal Brophy skilfully balance the mayhem with a witty and thoughtful exploration of the self-help industry.
With a serious drinking problem, burnt-out New York journalist Parker (Dourif) finds herself suddenly single, homeless and unemployed. So she takes some advice and attends a retreat with the guru Shuroo (Brophy) on an isolated upstate farm. His assistant Seraphina (Bagley) is too smiley for her, but Parker is intrigued by fellow attendees: shy Mark (Dorfman), chatty Nini (Sui), prickly young couple Mark and Darcy (Cooper and Qualley) and older attendees Willie and Jane (Kae-Kazim and Guest). Then during various enlightenment activities, Parker can't help but poke her nose into Shuroo's suspiciously shady past.
Sparky dialog, inventive camerawork and crisp editing help Cooper and Brophy build a terrific sense of mystery as the weekend progresses. As watched through Parker's cynical eyes, the film is able to both poke fun at and find some truth in Shuroo's sage teachings and offbeat exercises. There are some plot developments along the way that feel either pushy or under-cooked, but the messiness of this situation is basically the whole point. And the ways these people bounce off each other keeps us engaged.

Led by the superbly invested Dourif (whose father Brad makes an amusing cameo), this is an unusually strong ensemble, as each actor is able to make even the most outrageous element of his or her personality spring to authentic life. Brophy's commitment to Shuroo's slippery charisma is impressive, while Dorfman, Cooper and Qualley have especially strong personal moments along the way. All of the actors carefully let the viewer in, maintaining a humorous tone without ignoring emotional undercurrents.

Tellingly, it doesn't matter whether Shuroo is a fraud; getting honestly in touch with who you are is beneficial however it happens. Exhortations to reject victimhood and prudery are important, as is the freedom that comes from embracing truth and owning mistakes. The script also points out potential dangers in a system designed to make money by preying on vulnerable people. In this sense, even as it takes some lurid, energetic twists and turns, there's a feeling that the film doesn't quite go as far as it could.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 20.Jul.22

You Are My Sunshine  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

You Are My Sunshine
dir-scr David Hastings
prd Troy Dennison, David Hastings
with Steve Salt, Jack Knight, Ernest Vernon, Charles O'Neill, Simon Bamford, Charlie Clarke, Rosemary Manjunath, Jonathan Butler, Kiah Reeves, Dale Roberts, Elizabeth Burden, Troy Dennison
release UK 22.Jul.22
22/UK 1h54

Is it streaming?

knight and salt
Flickering back and forth across the decades, this sensitive British drama recounts an epic romance while tracing changes in the attitude towards homosexuality over the years. The direction and editing are rather languid, and the acting is hesitant and uneven, but there are some lovely sequences along the way that add up to create a gently involving portrait of a relationship during a shifting period in history.
In small-town England, Joe (O'Neill) is trying to mend his relationship with estranged sister Ethel (Manjunath), but her son John (Butler) is more interested in fixing things than she is. Joe's long-term partner Tom (Vernon) is supportive, and when speaks to Ethel he doesn't hold his tongue. The trouble traces back to the 1970s, when the teen Joe (then Knight) first met the cheeky Tom (then Salt). But their blossoming relationship was rejected by both Ethel (then Clarke) and their outspoken bigot of a dad (Bamford). Now, after all these years, the pain runs deep.
Flickering between present and past, the film moves slowly through its parallel narratives. Conversations are long and meandering, and transitions are often jarring. But there are lovely scenes throughout the overlong running time. The more engaging youthful romance plays out with sweet authenticity, while present-day scenes involve health issues while touching meaningfully on both the long connection between these two men and the damage caused by decades of prejudice. And what's lost due to hatred is difficult to recover.

The script is too generic to allow for much in the way of character depth, but the actors find some engaging charm along the way, especially Salt and Knight as the younger Tom and Joe's connection is engagingly played with a plenty of warmth and affection. Although there's very little lust on show. In the older roles, Vernon and O'Neill convey a knowing sense of the years these men spent together, vividly seen in each surge of emotion. Although the script never hints at what might have happened in those intervening decades.

There's an intriguing moment about halfway through when the young couple tries to imagine their life in old age, believing that they will never be publicly seen as a proper couple. Shortly after this, both strands of the story take darkly emotive turns that are played for maximum melodrama, complete with cloying musical score. But everything is circling around very real issues and feelings that many in the audience will identify with. And it's important to keep exploring the positive shifts in social values on screen.

cert 12 themes, language 21.Jul.22

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