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last update 30.Apr.11
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Airline Disaster
dir John 'Jay' Willis III
prd David Michael Latt
scr Paul Sinor, Victoria Dadi
with Meredith Baxter, Scott Valentine, Lindsey McKeon, Geoff Meed, Jude Gerard Prest, Matt Lagan, Bart Baggett, Londale Theus, Chip Bent, Nicholas J Leinbach, Ed Callison, Jim Boeven
release US 29.Jun.10 dvd,
UK 18.Apr.11 dvd
10/US Asylum 1h26
airline disaster From Asylum (see Titanic II), here's another so-bad-it's-funny action movie that randomly casts two forgotten TV stars in a movie that looks like it was shot in the director's garage, with effects rendered on his smart phone.

State-of-the-art airliner Starquest is on its maiden voyage with a number of passengers who look like they just escaped from a prison: tattooed, scarred, shifty and somehow packing an arsenal of guns and knives. These neo-Nazis quickly take over the plane, while their comrades on the ground kidnap the pilot's wife and kids. The hitch is that the pilot (Valentine) is the brother of the US President (Baxter), who's called to the war room to oversee the anti-terrorism operation. But solving this situation is more complicated than anyone expects.

This is mainly because the lazy script is packed with ludicrous twists and turns, mostly hinging on the failures of a variety of super high-tech systems. Many of these result in the plane swooping down to sheer off the top of another communications tower, raining debris onto city streets as people run for cover. Meanwhile on-board, a hot Secret Service agent (McKeon) is staging a one-woman counter-insurgency from the cargo hold while the passengers scream in fear at the snarling hijackers and the pilot and co-pilot (Prest) struggle to keep the plane in the air.

It's so preposterous that we can hardly believe the filmmakers had the nerve to release it to the public. The effects are ridiculous; not a single shot of the plane looks remotely believable (inside or out). And two sequences involving satellite systems are laughably silly. But then, the human-based scenes aren't much better, especially with actors like Theus (as a ground-based FBI agent), whose one expression implies that he picked the wrong day to stop using Xanax.

Valentine and Prest merely lean from side to side, Star Trek-style, looking worried by the way the camera - erm, plane - is tilting. And Baxter is surprisingly good at looking frazzled for nearly 90 minutes. If the filmmakers had a bit more nerve in the end, with a bigger, more destructive finale, it might be a proper guilty pleasure. Although it's still hilariously awful.

15 themes, language, violence
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Christopher and His Kind
dir Geoffrey Sax
scr Kevin Elyot
prd Celia Duval
with Matt Smith, Imogen Poots, Pip Carter, Douglas Booth, Lindsay Duncan, Toby Jones, Alexander Doetsch, Iddo Goldberg, Will Kemp, Issy Van Randwyck, Tom Wlaschiha, Gertrude Thoma
booth and smith
release UK 28.Feb.11 dvd
10/UK BBC 1h30
Christopher and His Kind Based on Christopher Isherwood's autobiography, this telling film grapples with deeply resonant themes even if the production values give away its TV origins. It also shows Doctor Who actor Matt Smith in an impressive new light.

In 1931, Christopher (Smith) leaves his middle class mother (Duncan) in England to join his friend Wystan (Carter), aka WH Auden, in Berlin. The openness of German society comes as a shock to Christopher, who for the first time feels that he has discovered his own kind in theatrical cabaret singer Jean (Poots), his camp neighbour Gerald (Jones), the sexy rent boy Caspar (Doetsch) and especially in his working-class lover Heinz (Booth). But the rise of the Nazi party makes it difficult for this lifestyle to continue.

Sax directs the film with a sharply observant eye, while Smith develops Christopher into a remarkably complex character. In fact, all of the characters are both likeable and a bit prickly, never simplified into cinematic shorthand as the actors are allowed to portray people who are flawed and real. This may highlight the film's low budget, but it also reminds us that a more earthy approach is far more sympathetic than Hollywood slickness.

Narrated as Isherwood writes in 1976 Los Angeles, the film takes an intriguingly nostalgic look at these events, which adds an emotional punch. And the perspective remains intimate from start to finish, emphasising Isherwood's relationships with family, friends, colleagues and romantic partners. This point of view also overcomes the film's slightly cheap look, as we instead focus on the way these people interact with each other, noting clearly which people are "his kind" and which aren't.

And this distinction doesn't have anything to do with sexuality; it's about the artistic temperament, the ability to see society just a little more honestly and openly than people caught up in fads, whether fashion trends or political movements. What this young man discovers is that there is a whole world of people out there who, like him, are constantly curious about life. Each day is a voyage of discovery. And we need to thank the filmmakers for allowing Isherwood to remind us of this.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Just Say Love
dir-prd Bill Humphreys
scr David J Mauriello, Bill Humphreys
with Matthew Jaeger, Robert Mammana
jaeger and mammana release US 26.Mar.10,
UK 14.Feb.11 dvd
09/US 1h15
just say love The theatricality of this movie is often rather distracting, as it tells a simple two-person story with broad brushstrokes. But despite the somewhat stagey performances and pretentious filmmaking, it force us to think about how we approach new situations.

Two guys meet on a park bench at lunchtime and are instantly both wary and interested. The rather bookish Guy (Jaeger) feels like his space has been invaded by the muscly builder Doug (Mammana). Doug's wife is expecting their first child, but he's very cool talking about Guy's obvious homosexuality, flirting outrageously. Soon they fall into a series of sexual encounters that Doug feels doesn't count as a relationship. While Guy is clearly falling for him. And eventually, they will have to make some sense of their uncomfortable connection.

Shot in a cavernous, shadowy warehouse with Dogville-style suggestions of settings and a strategic use of spotlights, the film has a distinct look to it that holds our interest. Even though the sets are extremely theatrical, the camerawork is intimate enough to catch the personalities of these two men. They're opposites, but from the start we can see that they're clearly attracted to each other, and their prickly dialog is packed with layers of insinuation.

On the other hand, the script often feels overwritten, stating the obvious and layering in heavy-handed sermons about sexuality, relationships and even vegetarianism. And filmmaker Humphreys isn't afraid to push it further by using blatant editing gimmicks or sentimental music to force us to see things from his perspective. Of course, this weakens the story's integrity and sometimes makes it feel like a polemic.

The other thing that lessens the impact is the occasional stiffness of the performances. Both actors are generally effective, but they sometimes struggle with awkward dialog and over-choreographed direction. The one sex scene is so oddly posed that it has no sense of intimacy or eroticism at all. And this coldness leaves us unconvinced by the story's emotional final act. We might believe that these two men have a soulful bond, but there's never any sign of actual physical connection. This is the film's weakest element, because it leaves us not only unable to feel much for these guys, but unsure what's actually going on between them.

15 themes, language, some sexuality
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Seeing Heaven
dir-scr Ian Powell
prd Anton Z Risan
with Alexander Bracq, Lee Chapman, Denton Lethe, Anton Z Risan, Thomas Thoroe, Andrew Shire, Anthony Styles, Gunnar Hojem, Nic Gilder, Maximo Salvo, Scott Van Der Merwe, Jamie Karl Cross
bracq release US 7.Dec.10 dvd,
UK 25.Apr.11 dvd
10/UK 1h46
seeing heaven This dark, dreamlike British drama tries to ratchet up the atmosphere with moody lighting and a nonstop foreboding underscore. But while we can admire the writer-director's vision, the film never connects with us.

Whenever he has sex, young escort Paul (Bracq) has visions of his long-lost twin Saul And his partners also see these scenes, in which Saul is being stalked by a slasher villain. Meanwhile, porn director John (Chapman) wants to create more meaningful films, and has been challenged by his agent (Styles) to find a hot new star. So when he meets Paul, he proposes that they work together, convincing him that his experimental soft-porn might help him find his brother.

The acting is uneven, although at least Bracq, Lethe (as another escort) and Risan (as a psychic pornstar) do the best they can with the mopey pacing and emotive dialog, some of which is genuinely awful. There are some touching scenes along the way, as the cast and crew effectively create a perplexing, murky atmosphere. Although as the story progresses it turns into psychological horror, with most of the scary stuff taking place in Paul's insinuating visions. Otherwise there's cold and menacing gay scene, with constant threat of violence and Aids.

As it continues, it gets so overwrought and pretentious that it's almost comical. Paul needs to have increasingly extreme sex in order to push his visions further, and yet feels like he's losing a bit of himself along the way. The problem is that he doesn't seem to have much of a personality to start with, the physicality is ludicrously staged, and the big climactic revelation is strangely unsatisfactory.

Filmmaker Powell clearly knows his film history, evoking everything from Dorian Gray to Don't Look Now, plus the mirror-world of Cocteau's Orphee, but he continually hedges his bets by keeping everything so soft-core that it's corny (the film within the film is surely the least sexy porn ever). And the final message, about the dangers of the sex trade, is deeply simplistic. It's clear that Powell's filmmaking passion needs a ruthless editor to make things more energetic and compelling, but this thoughtful movie marks him as a filmmaker to watch.

18 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall