Thursday, March 21, 2024

Reverend's Reviews: Two Great New Movies to Ring in Spring

Spring has officially/meteorologically sprung, although you wouldn't know it here at Reverend's rectory in New England. Other parts of the country are likely having earlier indications that the seasons have changed. This is especially true based on some local movie events.

In northern California, the Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) is being celebrated this weekend! Proving that Sonoma has more to offer than just fine wine, this fest is presented each year by a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to promoting the best in independent film and filmmakers from around the world. SIFF hosts its annual festival each March, getting a jump on the US film festival season, as well as year-round events and special screenings. For passes, tickets and more information, visit

Extremely Unique Dynamic will be having its World Premiere as the fest's Gay-La Spotlight Film on tonight with a party hosted by fabulous actor-writer-director James Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Rabbit Hole, Shortbus). The movie will have an additional screening at 1:00 pm on Saturday, March 23rd. A smart meta comedy, it follows Ryan (Harrison Xu) and Daniel (Ivan Leung), two childhood best friends and aspiring actors. They are spending one final weekend together in Los Angeles before Ryan moves to Canada with his fiancé. Wanting to create a lasting memory, they decide to make a movie… about two guys making a movie… about two guys making a movie. In the process, bottled-up secrets arise as they unpack their decades-long friendship and prepare for the next chapters of their respective lives.

Things were seemingly just as meta behind the scenes. Read this carefully: Extremely Unique Dynamic is directed by Xu, Leung and Katherine Dudas (who plays Juniper) from a screenplay by Xu, Leung and Dudas, and is produced by Xu, Leung and Noel Do-Murakami. Both Leung and Do-Murakami identify as LGBTQ+. Also of note and beyond acting, Ivan Leung is celebrated for his comedic rap finesse that was notably showcased in the viral hit "Taco Loving Asian Guy." Also appearing in the film are Hudson Yang (well-known from the groundbreaking sitcom Fresh Off the Boat) and, making his film premiere, internet personality Nathan Down (3M YouTube followers and counting).

Leung and Xu give endearing performances in this often very funny movie. Wherever and whenever you see it, be sure to watch all the way through the end credits for additional meta wackiness.

The hands-down best film I've seen thus far this Spring/new year is Thomas Cailley's The Animal Kingdom (in French: Le Regne Animal). Co-written by Cailley and Pauline Munier, this visionary, provocative new sci-fi/queer thriller drops viewers into an extraordinary world where mutations in human genetics are causing people to transform into hybrid creatures. These mutants become disparagingly referred to as "critters" or, worse, "monsters." François (Roman Duris) does everything he can to save his wife, who is affected by this mysterious condition. As some of the creatures disappear into a nearby forest, François embarks with their 16-year-old son Emile (Paul Kircher) on a quest to find her with unexpected help from a local police officer (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Alas, Emile also soon begins to succumb to the unusual transformation.

The Animal Kingdom had its world premiere as the opening film of the Un Certain Regard section at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. It was subsequently nominated for a leading 12 Cesar Awards and won an impressive 5 Cesars, including Best Visual Effects. The film is now playing in some US theaters and is streaming for a $6.99 as I write this. It is well worth the ticket or rental price, between its LGBTQ-relevant plot and Paul Kircher's impressive, affecting performance.

Reverend's Ratings:
Extremely Unique Dynamic: B+
The Animal Kingdom: A-

Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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