Tag Archives: Christie Robb

Is This Your Homework, LaRoy?

LaRoy, Texas

by Christie Robb

When small-town pushover Ray (John Magaro, Past Lives) finds himself caught up in a blackmail/murder-for-hire scheme, he teams up with high school-acquaintance/bumbling private investigator Skip (Steve Zahn) to get to the bottom of things.

This neo-noir crime-comedy is writer/director Shane Atkinson’s first feature (he wrote the screenplay for the 2019 Diane Keaton vehicle Poms). It feels like a streamlined take on the Big Lebowski—mistaken identity gets loser in over his head in a world full of morally ambiguous/dangerous characters. An overly-invested partner invites himself along and makes the situation worse. A somewhat complex mystery is unraveled. There are funny interactions with various weirdos.

Zahn (White Lotus) is a highlight. His cowboy-at-prom ensemble. His golden retriever vibe. His enthusiasm for detection. It’s all glorious. 

Dylan Baker’s (Selma) Harry the Hitman is unsettling in the manner of that unassuming neighbor who keeps to himself but then gets caught doing something unspeakable, like using a stray cat as a fleshlight. He shifts from disarming charm to efficient malevolence like a finely-tuned racecar.

However, while LaRoy, Texas is funny, it’s missing the quirk of the Cohen brothers cult classic. The lead, Ray, lands as a too bland everyman—a boring sad-sack point of stability around which the plot turns. The dialogue could be snappier. The women could have more to do. And it definitely deserved a better soundtrack.

But if you are looking to program a night of neo-noir, you could totally play LaRoy, Texas as an opening act as long as you save the superstars like Fargo and the Big Lebowski for later in the evening.

Screening Room: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, Road House, Immaculate, Late Night with the Devil & More

Fierce Love

Coming to You

by Christie Robb

Writer/director Gyuri Byun’s Coming to You is a monument to the love and support families can provide for their children even if it takes the older generation a minute to get there.

The Korean documentary follows Hankyeol, a person who is gender-fluid, but pursuing a legal identification change from female to male. This requires the partnership of his mom, Nabi. (In Korea, up until 2019, this process required filling out 18 different legal documents—including parental approval regardless of the child’s age. So, even if you’re an adult in your 30s.)

Sharing the spotlight is Yejoon, a gay man, and his mom, Vivian. Initially, Vivian thought Yejoon would be better off living abroad for the rest of his life rather than living in a homeland that lacks same-sex marriage rights.

Right now Korea isn’t a super-friendly space for the LGBTQ+ community. But PFLAG (an international organization dedicated to support, education, and advocacy for LGBTQ+ people and their loved ones) and other groups are working to change that.

Coming to You, a documentary years in the making, illustrates the challenges and struggles of parents in a conservative society when they find out their kid doesn’t fit society’s expectations for who they are and/or how they behave. A society that can be hostile and violent. Homophobic. Transphobic. A society where suicide is the leading cause of death of people aged 10-39 (BBC).

But, it’s not all struggle. There’s hope and joy here, too—changes in the legal system, evolving attitudes after challenging conversations, fierce love and devotion. Support. Allyship. Love.

Centered on the mothers’ journeys to acceptance, the film could have benefitted from a deeper exploration of the children’s experiences. A few more interviews with them would have really strengthened the project.

But the moms are raw and honest, flawed but trying. And the extent they are willing to listen, love, and change to support their kids is just beautiful.

Screening Room: Kung Fu Panda 4, Imaginary, Ricky Stanicky, Damsel & More

Black Metal Kung Fu

The Invisible Fight

by Christie Robb

Picture it: the Soviet-Chinese border, 1973. Three Chinese martial-artists dressed up like they are about to join John Travolta for a Saturday night at the discotheque,  wire-fu their way into Soviet territory and kick the shit out of some guards.

One of the guards, Rafael (Ursel Tilk) falls in love. With kung fu.

Determined to learn, despite the practice being banned in the USSR, Rafael tries to teach himself. Then, his car fortuitously breaks down in front of a Russian Orthodox monastery.  There, in a take on the Shaolin Monastery (birthplace of Shaolin Kung Fu), Rafael begins his true training, both physical and metaphysical.

Only in director Rainer Sarnet’s (November) movie, the trappings of Chinese kung fu are replaced with the long beards, black floor-length gowns, and gilt religious treasures of the Russian Orthodox aesthetic. And all the hand movements are derived from the symbolism of religious iconography.

The look is bright 70s pop art. The sound effects are cartoonlike. The music is Black Sabbath. The fight sequences are amusing and often manage to use food. (I’ve never seen someone weaponize a pierogi before.)

The only thing that got in the way of a thoroughly enjoyable movie-time was the sexual politics. The film really wanted to sort its female characters into the roles of either Madonna-mother or whore-demon. But maybe that’s more the Church’s issue than the movie’s. The kung fu surrealist comedy has the kind of video-store cult-classic vibes that would make for a great weekend watch with a group of rowdy friends.

Parents Who Use Drugs…

Bleeding Love

by Christie Robb

It’s generational trauma time as real-life father and daughter Ewan and Clara McGregor play estranged family embarking on a 14-hour road trip across the American Southwest.

She thinks she’s going on a vacation. He’s taking her to rehab in the aftermath of a first OD at 20. His support now is made possible by his own sobriety journey. It’s just too bad that his rehabilitation started after his daughter’s early childhood had ended. And his rock bottom involved abandoning the family.

Directed by Emma Westenberg (Stranger’s Arms), Bleeding Love is a spare, gritty film. Quite a bit of it consists of extreme close ups of the pair, bathed in golden desert light, awkwardly attempting to rebuild a connection.

This is interspersed with the tropes you’ve come to expect from road trip movies—a breakdown, a sing-along, moments of high drama broken with comedic relief—the best of the latter coming from a sex worker (Vera Bulder) who helps the duo navigate a medical crisis.

With flashbacks to the daughter’s childhood, recalling moments of joy and pain surrounding her dad’s wacky behavior, the film will definitely give watchers of a certain age flashbacks to the large-scale anti-narcotics PSA by Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Nope. Not the frying egg. The other one.  The one with the dad finding a box of drugs in his son’s bedroom and asking the poor kid how he even knows to use them.

You alright. I learned it from watching you!”

Bleeding Love can be a bit heavy-handed and ignores some of the realities of addiction (like the crushing hangovers) but it’s sweet and hopeful and grounded in the real-life struggles of the McGregors.

Bubblegum Noir


by Christie Robb

Newbie prisoner, Baron (Joe Keery, Stranger Things), needs to be back on the street by three p.m. Luckily, his new cellmate is a veteran at all things illegal, including successful jail breaks. And he’s bored. If Baron can spin a compelling enough yarn about why he needs to make his three o’clock meeting, Otis (Aldis Hodge, Black Adam) will get him there on time.

Veteran character actor Keir O’Donnell takes the helm to write/direct his first feature with Marmalade.  And his casting is pretty great. Keery’s Baron shares a lot of the qualities that made his Steve from Stranger Things so much fun—great hair, the charisma of a golden retriever puppy, and a relentless devotion to his loved ones.

Here, Keery’s the caregiver of a bedridden mamma whose prescription medication just jumped up in price. All seems bleak until Marmalade (Camila Morrone, Daisy Jones and the Six) rolls into town. She’s got the pink hair, tattoos, and unconventional fashion sense of a manic pixie dream girl. But she’s also got a gun and a plan to rob a bank, so more a noir femme fatale who shops at vintage stores.

Marmalade is a little bit Forrest Gump and a little bit Natural Born Killers and a lot bit of another movie that I won’t mention because…spoilers. But you’ll figure it out before the credits roll.

It’s a stylish movie with good chemistry between cast members and some fun twists. However, the script deserved another few drafts before filming. In order to pull off what the film is trying to do, you need a tightly woven script that works the first time without giving away the ending, and that holds up to multiple viewings once you know. Here, there were plot holes as big as those in the hot pink fishnet tights that Marmalade so often wears.  

But if you don’t mind that, Marmalade is pretty sweet.

Binary Schminary

Fitting In

by Christie Robb

It’s hard enough being a typical teenage girl. Then, layer on being the new girl in school. With a single mom who is taking on side hustles to pay for college tuition and breast reconstructive surgery post mastectomy. Then, throw in a cute boy who has cheekbones that could cut granite who wants to go all the way, and a charismatic nonbinary hottie.

And, just when you’ve found a ride-or-die BFF who will accompany you to the gynecologist for a birth control consult, you find out your reproductive organs decided to develop atypically. Instead of a canal you’ve got a dimple.

Fitting everything in just got a whole lot more complicated.

Writer/director Molly McGlynn’s background in TV comedy (she’s directed episodes of Grown-ish and Grace and Frankie) serves her well in this feature. She can find the right balance of pathos and humor inherent in stuff like using a series of medical dildos to DIY a vagina.

The movie is also semi-autobiographical and it always helps to write what you know.

Maddie Ziegler (West Side Story) is perhaps a little bit more comfortable with delivering McGlynn’s one-liners than she is surrendering to the emotional depths. Her mom, played by Emily Hampshire (Schitt’s Creek) is a gem, sparkling with a wider emotional range. But Ziegler does an absolutely fantastic job conveying the body horror of being a newbie in stirrups acting like it’s normal to have a chit chat while some dude you just met with no bedside manner tries to plumb your hidden depths with a chilly metal device.

Fitting In is sex positive and fun and smart and silly. It explores the way that binary notions of sex and gender are limiting. It can actually pull off opening with two quotes—one from Simone de Beauvoir and one from Diablo Cody (writer of 2007s Juno and the upcoming Lisa Frankenstein). And the flick’s  got the absolute best visual metaphors soundtracked to Peaches’ 2000 jam “Fuck the Pain Away”.


To Everything There Is a Season

Under the Fig Trees

by Christie Robb

First time feature director Erige Sehiri’s Under the Fig Trees depicts a day in the life of Tunisian agricultural workers harvesting an orchard’s worth of figs on a sunny summer day. The village is almost claustrophobically small. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. Life’s opportunities are limited. Gender roles are rigid.

Sehiri’s film unfolds slowly. It feels like we are eavesdropping. The cast of non-professional actors chat, flirt, and bicker among themselves and try to avoid getting in trouble with the boss Gaith (Gaith Mendassi).

The progressive Fidé (Fidé Fdhili) has a closer relationship with Gaith than most, but is aware that this is a source of gossip for the other workers. She also knows that he is just as capable of assaulting her in a quiet corner as he is capable of letting her ride shotgun to the job site instead of making her stand in the bed of the truck like the others.

Fidé’s younger sister Feten (Feten Fdhili) is delighted to meet up with an ex-boyfriend she’s never completely gotten over. The beautiful Abdou (Abdelhak Mrabti) seems less than thrilled. Another couple struggles to define the terms of their relationship as they simultaneously attempt to hide a stolen bucket of figs.

The young speculate joyfully on their futures and love lives while a separate clutch of older women gaze on from the sidelines. Their swollen bodies and melancholy demeanors hint at the unexpected challenges and burdens that the young folks will someday have to navigate themselves.

Sehiri’s background in documentary film comes through in lingering shots of the countryside that are reminiscent of the honey-hued oil paintings of agricultural workers from the 19th century. And like those paintings, her movie shows both the hardships and the beauty of working on the land in community.