Murder mystery refuses to play by the rules

The one with a devil in its detailsTHE LITTLE THINGS (MA15+)★★★FOXTEL, NETFLIX or RENTBy conventional murder-mystery standards, The Little Things is not here to play by the rules. Or for that matter, play nice. If you can look past this unashamedly strange movie’s ungainly structure and unworldly sense of atmosphere – and both factors are so distracting, that is easier said than done – then you’ll identify a mean streak that is only going to widen throughout. The ever-dependable Denzel Washington plays Joe Deacon, an old-school homicide investigator who jumped off the murderous merry-go-round of the Los Angeles beat some years ago. Now he is reluctantly back in the game, at the invitation of the man who replaced him in his original job, hotshot detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek). As the pair mount a complex investigation of a long-running chain of serial killings, all evidence points to an eerily self-confident loner named Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) as the only possible perp. However, there may be less to this strange individual than first meets the eye. What follows gradually warps into a genuinely gripping and unnervingly ambiguous thriller.The one where crime really does payTHE GENTLEMEN (MA15+)★★★½NETFLIX or RENTEnjoyably eccentric British crime thriller from a bloke who knows a thing or two about the genre, director Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels). Matthew McConaughey stars as American drugs kingpin Mickey Pearson, a debonair dope dealer who dominates the UK marijuana trade. However, now he wants out, which means offloading his ingenious farming operation to a buyer who will not blow his cover. However, Mickey’s dutiful second-in-command, Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) is not so sure his boss can pull it off. Especially now that muckraking journalist Fletcher (Hugh Grant) knows something big is going down. This only scratches the surface of what The Gentlemen will be getting up to in terms of continually colliding characters, conversations and crazily convoluted crimes before your very eyes. It might all amount to nothing more than a juiced-up joy ride into the London underworld, but what a fast, furious and fun ride it is.The one where a coming out could be coming to ChristmasHAPPIEST SEASON (M)★★★FOXTEL, AMAZON or RENTThis Christmas-themed rom-com does the December-reunion-of-a-dysfunctional-family thing in a friendly and familiar way. With the exception of one key element of its premise, you are right to assume you have seen and heard all of this before. Doesn’t mean you won’t respond positively to Happiest Season, however. Far from it. This sprightly yarn of a same-sex couple trying to keep their relationship under wraps until the holidays are over is charming middle-of-the-road fare. Harper (Mackenzie Davis) does not wish to spend Christmas apart from girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart), so she hauls her home to join a family Christmas celebration by posing as her ‘roommate’. Much tension and an above-average number of laughs are drawn from whether Harper and Abby can keep their loving bond closeted for a whole week. Adding further complications are Harper’s control-freak mother (Mary Steenburgen), politically ambitious father (Victor Garber), and intriguing ex (Aubrey Plaza). That wonderful Schitt’s Creek scene-stealer Dan Levy disrupts the predictable proceedings exactly when required.The one where someone leaps before they lookLAND (M)★★★½BINGE, AMAZON, FOXTEL or RENTThe one abiding mystery at the heart of Land is enough to keep you watching intently throughout. Robin Wright plays Edee, a woman who has ditched everything to live off the grid in the mountains of Wyoming. Is this an act of self-discovery or self-erasure? The answer is never made clear for much of Land’s running time, but you mind will race with your own hot takes and cold conspiracy theories. While you wait for a graceful final ‘reveal’, Edee gets some much needed training in how to fend for herself from a kindly neighbouring frontiersman named Miguel (a wonderful Demian Bichir). If you admired Nomadland and that more movies that strayed from familiar storytelling paths more often, then Land is the movie for you.The one where it takes one to mow oneTHE STRAIGHT STORY (PG)★★★★SBS ON DEMANDHere is a slowcoach tale if ever there was one, the true story of a 73-year-old man who rode a rusty rider-mower across several states in the US just so he could make up with his estranged older brother. Despite an average speed of 8 km/hr, old Alvin Straight (masterfully portrayed by the late Richard Farnsworth) remains on the fast track to personal redemption throughout his remarkable odyssey. A quaintly inspirational docu-comedy – directed with the obscure panache synonymous with the best work of filmmaker David Lynch (Mulholland Drive and TV’s Twin Peaks) – The Straight Story is a small motion-picture miracle. How could a film whose high points include a man tasting his first beer in three decades be anything else?The one always in clues controlONLY THE ANIMALS (M)★★★★RENT ONLYA masterful murder mystery set in a remote region of France. A vehicle is found abandoned on a windswept hillside pass. The driver is nowhere to be seen. She is a woman known to locals, but, importantly, is not a local herself. No-one in this part of the world at this time of the year can survive a night in the open air. So what the hell has happened? And where is the body? The police haven’t a single clue. Whereas you will be supplied with a stack of crucial evidence thanks to the clever scripting structure of the movie. Sometimes the same incident will be repeated, and our understanding of what has occurred will be radically altered. At other times, a small, yet significant snippet of fresh information will suddenly surface, and what once seemed a hard fact is crushed into dust. Highly recommended.The one where Sia-ing is not believingMUSIC (M)★BINGE, FOXTEL or RENTWhat is the distance between trailblazer and tragically out of touch? In the case of singer, songwriter and pop-cultural maverick Sia, the answer is the length of her debut as director. This feeble modern fairytale about an autistic teen entrusted into the care of her drug-addled older sister is an eyesore (the production design appears to have been modelled on an explosion in a highlighter factory), an ear-sore (the soundtrack is definitely third-rate by Sia’s standards) and a bum-numbing snore of epically eccentric-for-the-sake-of-it proportions. Stars Kate Hudson.

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