Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...
On this page: DUMMY | FLICK
< <
I N D I E S > >
last update 5.Oct.08
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
dir Matthew Thompson
scr Michael Mueller
with Thomas Grant, Aaron Johnson, Emma Catherwood, Therese Bradley, Moira Brooker, Andrew Havill, Leo Wringer, Jerome Blake, Michael Palmer, Morgan Symes
johnson and grant release UK Jun.08 eiff
08/UK 1h28

edinburgh  film fest
raindance  film fest
dummy An astute debut for first-time feature director Thompson, this offbeat British drama has a striking cast that remains likeable even when the story teeters out of balance.

Preteen Jack (Grant) is struggling to cope with the death of his mother, the flamboyant free-spirit Elsa (Bradley in flashbacks). Besides taking on her role in the house, he has secretly dressed a mannequin in her clothes to keep him company. Meanwhile, his 18-year-old brother Danny (Johnson) thinks he can take on the parenting roles, although he clearly expects Jack to take care of himself while he spends time on both his girlfriend (Catherwood) and his budding DJ career.

The film has a beautifully rendered flashback structure that gives us more information as it continues, letting us see deeper and deeper into these young men and their life with their mother--things a visiting social worker (Brooker) can't possibly understand. Or can she? This flicking back and forth in time is intriguing and engaging, and it's also gorgeously shot and edited to create a vivid sense of the family dynamic, even as it also makes the film feel a bit choppy.

The two young actors are extremely natural in their roles. Grant displays a genuine sense of the smart, over-keen kid who has been forced to grow up too quickly; Jack is so tenacious that he's almost a force of nature. And rising star Johnson (Angus, Thongs) really gets under the skin of Danny's teen bravado. He's a typical 18-year-old, irresponsible but not thoughtless, naturally more interested in drinking, parties and girls than the raw realities of caring for a child.

As the story progresses, the soft-focus, free-wheeling past gives way to an increasingly creepy present. Jack's insistence on building this dummy in mum's place brings out a disturbing undercurrent that's ultimately pretty wrenching. As these boys fail to deal properly with their grief, Jack's delusion is matched by Danny's self-destruction. And when they ultimately hit the road together, the film only barely manages to hang together. Especially when the story ultimately abandons the blackly comical tone for something much more dark and serious.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
23.Jun.08 eiff
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
dir-scr David Howard
with Hugh O'Conor, Michelle Ryan, Faye Dunaway, Mark Benton, Liz Smith, Hayley Angel Wardle, Julia Foster, Terence Rigby, Richard Hawley, Duane Henry, Brian Hibbard, Boyd Clack
dunaway release UK Oct.08 rff
08/UK 1h35

raindance  film fest
flick A B-movie zombie-rockabilly mash-up, this British comedy-thriller has visual style to burn, plus a genuinely remarkable cast that keeps us watching even when things get seriously silly.

In the 1950s, painfully shy teddy-boy Johnny (O'Conor) finally gets up the nerve to ask Sally (Wardle) to dance, but is so badly bullied by the local boys that he drives off into the night in a panic, crashing his car into the water. Five decades later he's found in the river, and his decomposing body reanimates, flick-knife in hand and ready for revenge against those who bullied him. Two detectives (Dunaway and Benton) are trying to stop his murderous rampage before it reaches Sally (now Foster), her daughter (Ryan) and husband (Rigby).

There's such an unhinged visual energy to this film that we can't help but be gripped to the screen. The 1950s prologue is in black and white with spot colour like Sin City. And this slick, cool vibe turns increasingly creepy and violent until it transforms into the present day, awash in lurid colours. The comic book look of the film is further established by actual on-screen comic frames that fill in between the scenes and are an extremely inventive way of getting around expensive effects shots.

With such a full-on approach, writer-director Howard also gets away with the hammy actors and the cheesy story. Everything's so trashy and crazed that it's impossible to hate it. Not to mention the fact that Dunaway adds real gusto to her one-armed character, even making the most of her rather creepy nipped/tucked face in close-up. She delivers even the most ludicrous dialog impeccably, and perfectly matches the over-the-top performances of the rest of the cast. Smith is especially hysterical in yet another mad granny role.

And beneath all of the nuttiness, there's even some real pathos in Johnny's desire to have just one dance with the girl of his dreams. The cast and crew are having too much fun to take time to make a serious comment on bullying culture or how a long-held grudge can literally consume you, but it's there in the subtext, and it marks this filmmaker as one to watch.

15 themes, violence, language
3.Oct.08 rff
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
The Princess of Nebraska
dir Wayne Wang
scr Michael Ray
with Ling Li, Brian Danforth, Pamelyn Chee, Patrice Binaisa, Lin Qing
li release US Sep.07 tff,
UK Jun.08 eiff
07/US 1h17

edinburgh Film Fest

Companion piece:
the princess of nebraska With a scruffy, freewheeling style, filmmaker Wang follows a young woman lost in the big, bad city over the course of 24 hours. It's extremely pointed, often chilling, and leaves us with plenty to chew on afterwards.

Sasha (Li) is a 18-year-old Chinese girl who drops out of university in Omaha and flies to San Francisco on a mission. She's four months pregnant, following a fling back home in Beijing, and needs help from her lover's American friend (Danforth) before she makes the big decision whether or not to have the baby and put it up for adoption. But she's hopelessly over her head, thinking she's a talented Paris Hilton-style fashionista. Along the way, she befriends a hooker named X (Chee) who "introduces" her to a local businessman (Binaisa).

The lively hand-held video imagery cleverly captures Sasha's internal perspective as her black eyes dart around the city. She's a true Asian princess--dressed in pink with long nails and a bejewelled mobile--and as she explores her environment, the filmmakers use minimal dialog, low sound levels and offbeat music to keep us intrigued. There are also some extended conversations that pointedly show the non-morality of this generation of Chinese youth, who seem to almost wallow in their ignorance as they seek the easiest route to prosperity.

As the story progresses, there are some shocking revelations especially as we begin to see what Sasha is actually planning to do and how the people in her life are interconnected. Newcomer Li is very good in the demanding role, building a strong rapport with each of her costars (her scenes with Chee are both fiery and full of raw emotion), and many of her conversations are startlingly revealing. While her scenes in the clinic are both touching and scary.

In the end, the film feels a bit slight with its short running time and long stretches of silence. And there are also some somewhat uneven moments of strained acting here and there. But there's so much going on in here that it's well worth a look. And as an odyssey of a young, self-absorbed woman forced to make some extremely grown-up decisions all on her own, the film has a resonance and timeliness that actually makes it urgent.

15 themes, language, innuendo
24.Jun.08 eiff
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers
dir Wayne Wang
scr Yiyun Li
with Henry O, Faye Yu, Vida Ghahremani, Pasha Lychnikoff, Angela Dierdorff Petro, Tracy Schornick, Wes Deitrick, Liz Mathews, Patrick Treadway, Ryan Sanson, Lonny W Waddle, Jared Wagner
o and ghahremani
release UK Jun.08 eiff,
US 19.Sep.08
07/US 1h23

edinburgh Film Fest
Companion piece:
A Thousand Years Of Good Prayers Capturing the deep longings of modern life, this quiet drama about expats in America has a subtle, haunting charm. And its vivid characters help undercut the slightly preachy issues.

When his daughter Yilan (Yu), who lives in Spokane, Washington, gets divorced, Mr Shi (O) travels from China to offer her some support. But the independent Yilan feels like he's invading her privacy, which of course he is, even though he's only trying to help. Bored at home while she's either at work or deliberately avoiding him, Mr Shi instead explores the town, befriending an Iranian woman (Ghahremani) in the park whose family is also avoiding her.

Director Wang tells this slight, bittersweet story with a clever combination of family and cultural themes from both America and China. Within the long, unhurried takes, there are potent things going on under the surface, as the script quietly explores the legacy of China's Cultural Revolution (Mr Shi talks about how he was once a rocket scientist, but the truth is much more complicated). These are all people who have had pain in their past and are trying the best they can to move forward.

Henry O's expressive performance holds the film together with wry humour and a childlike curiosity. In his interaction with the people he meets, he often seems bewildered, but is actually exploring and learning all the way. Awkward encounters abound--with a young bikini-clad neighbour, a pompous antiques dealer, a couple of Mormons--and O's reactions are telling and utterly involving. Meanwhile, Yu's portrayal of Yilan's anxious solace is remarkably authentic.

It's in these personal touches that the film connects with us. As father and daughter begin to rediscover each other, we learn that Mr Shi is trying to make up for bad parenting even as he realises that, as one character says, "all we can do as a parent is worry and hope". The title refers to what it takes to build a strong relationship: the hard work, the unceasing support of family and friends. And more than the sharp comments about China or our globalised culture, this idea is what lingers in the mind after the credits roll.

PG themes
24.Jun.08 eiff
back to the top Send Shadows your reviews!

< < I N D I E S > >

© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall