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last update 22.Jul.11
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Blackmail Boys
dir-scr-prd Bernard & Richard Shumanski
with Nathan Adloff, Taylor Reed, Joe Swanberg, Tammy Fana, Spencer Parsons, Nostrebla Navi, Marc Singletary, Danny Rhodes
adloff and reed
release US 28.Jan.11,
UK 8.Aug.11 dvd
10/US 1h09
blackmail boys A simple romantic drama is cleverly tweaked with various themes and subplots, including political issues like gay rights and religious hypocrisy, plus a desperate extortion plot. And along the way, the cast and crew astutely capture current attitudes and culture.

After four-years together, Sam and Aaron (Adloff and Reed) are hating their long-distance relationship. Sam is in art school in Chicago, supporting himself as an escort, so when Aaron moves from Tennessee, things are a bit awkward at first. But they get back on track and even start to talk marriage. Then Aaron recognises one of Sam's clients as Christian preacher Rev Tucker (Swanberg), and proposes a blackmail plot so Sam can give up this work and they can move to a state where gay marriage is legal.

By stirring in a blackly comical tone, the Shumanski brothers give the film a superbly youthful feel, centred on 20-something guys who narrate the film with on-screen text and phone-cam clips. Like their earlier film Wrecked, it's shot using hand-held camerawork and improv-style acting. But this movie has a much sharper sense of character, with an emotional undercurrent that we can identify with as Sam realises that he needs to make some changes in his life for the sake of his relationship. The moralising here is a bit heavy-handed, but it's also realistic. Especially as it shifts into an exploration of religious hypocrisy.

Adloff and Reed are natural in their roles, creating a believable relationship that shifts as they get involved in their sting. Their interaction is sensitively portrayed on a variety of levels - physical, emotional, even spiritual - remaining understated even when it's rather graphic. Swanberg has a more thankless role as the ostensible villain of the piece, and he plays him as a two-faced hothead who snaps violently at his wife (Fana) and at both Sam and Aaron.

No, the filmmakers never acknowledge that the admittedly slimy Tucker is actually the victim of a crime, insisting that his duplicity justifies the boys' extortion. Of course their plan doesn't go as expected, and the story's final act and epilogue feel both sudden and a little pushy. But it's also honest and surprisingly hopeful, leaving us with something to think about as well as a smile on our faces.

18 themes, language, violence, strong sexuality
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Finding Me: Truth
dir-scr-prd Roger S Omeus Jr
with RayMartell Moore, Eugene E Turner, J'Nara Corbin, Derrick L Briggs, Maurice Murrell, Josh Breckenridge, Eric Joppy, Miste Roule, Bry'Nt, Marcell Gumbs, Jake Krickhan, Ron DeSuze
briggs and moore release UK 25.Jul.11 dvd
11/US TLA 1h41
finding me: truth While this ensemble drama was clearly made on an extremely low budget, it's the awkwardly structured script and stiff direction that make it difficult to engage with. But there are some strong characters along the way, and so many plot threads that something is bound to keep viewers interested.

In Jersey City, the shy Faybien (Moore) wants to sort out his love life, so he tries to rekindle his relationship with Lonnie (Briggs), whom he still loves. But Lonnie has found someone new, so for advice Faybien turns to his lively, rather unhelpful friends: Amera (Corbin) is unnecessarily jealous of her hunky boyfriend (Breckenridge), while Greg (Turner) is loves his freedom to sleep with both a boy and girl (Joppy and Roule). And amid their own messy issues, they encourage Faybien to get back out on the scene.

The multi-strand plot is enjoyable to watch, as everyone tries to sort through the clutter of their respective relationships. And as it goes along, the characters emerge with distinct personalities and a certain level of complexity, balancing the more serious romance with silly comedy. On the other hand, writer-director Omeus encourages rather over-egged acting from his cast.

There are glimpses of filmmaking skill, but many scenes are clunky and choppy, lurching around anything remotely edgy or sexy. While there are moments that work extremely well, most attempts at either melodrama or farce feel half-baked. The film is also in need of much tighter editing and a stronger score; it's truly squirm-inducing when porn-style music kicks in each time someone gets romantic. As the pretentious title hints, Omeus is tackling every issue in the book, but he rarely breaks the surface.

For a film about romance and sex, there's actually very little of either. Meanwhile, the story is packed with cliches, like queeny muscle-boy Jaylen (Murrell) and his gangsta-dealer boyfriend Omar (Bry'Nt). Some of actors stiffly overplay their scenes, while others strain to convey the honest emotions that are lacking in the script, which makes the whole film feel amateurish. At one point during a confrontational dinner party, one person says, "I feel like I'm watching three different TV shows." And that's before the trite hospital climax, complete with a heavy dose of painful moralising.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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Over the Edge
dir-scr-prd Webster Forrest
with Danny Bedford, Sean Hart, Fenella Fielding, Phillip Davey, David Caruana, Graham Dickson, Susan Kane, Philip St Clair-Burke, Jan Taylor, Kristy Swift
bedford, hart and davey
release UK 8.Aug.11 dvd
11/UK 1h14
over the edge And offbeat, blackly comical tone makes this awkward micro-budget British film remarkably involving. While the premise revolves around a serial killer, the movie is actually a warped romantic-comedy that makes us curious what the filmmaker might do with a bit more funding.

While a notorious killer stalks the streets of Camden, Jason (Bedford) has locked himself in his flat, skipping work, worrying about his health and getting increasingly paranoid. He phones his work colleague Richard (Hart) for help with his DVD player, and the fact that he has a crush on Richard makes things turn amusingly tense. Especially as feeling seems to be mutual. Then Jason confesses that he thinks he's committing these murders during his increasing blackouts. And that he has just woken up with a dead stranger in his bed.

Filmmaker Forrest tries to mask his low budget with continual visual flourishes, including hand-held camerawork and frequent scenes that are either washed-out or in black and white. Some of these things are distracting, as they attempt to capture Jason's increasingly erratic perspective on life, although they don't seem very consistent. And the editing is extremely uneven, leaving events feeling both contrived and silly. And none of this is helped by the clunky sound mix and anonymous score.

While the actors' inexperience shows, they are still convincing as these offbeat characters. Stylistically, they approach their performances with big expressions that feel theatrical, especially with Bedford's to-camera asides. And the same goes for Fielding's far-too-camp neighbour, who adds a level of corny farce to the movie with her freakish nosiness. This lack of subtlety infuses the entire film, as does a generally choppy sense of logic, making it rather impossible to suspend our disbelief.

Thankfully, there's plenty of subtext in the dialog to hold our interest, as we wonder where things are going. And as it progresses, the pitch-black comedy keeps us smiling, especially as the film pokes fun at crime-scene TV dramas. The way Jason and Richard cope with various dead bodies is amusingly deadpan and also more than a little ridiculous. This hilariously dark tone undermines what's essentially a light romantic-comedy premise, while stirring in all sorts of sinister suggestions. And while their romance has no zing to it at all, it's actually rather cute.

15 themes, language, violence
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You Should Meet My Son!
dir-scr-prd Keith Hartman
with Joanne McGee, Carol Goans, Stewart Carrico, Ginger Pullman, Steve Snyder Acquah Dansoh, Matt Palazzolo, Chris Nolan, Derek Livingston, Tim Garrett, Brett Holland, Leif Holt
the gang release US 7.Jun.11
10/US 1h28
you should meet my son This amusing exploration of a mother and son coming to terms with his sexuality is marred by over-egged comedy and a reliance on corny stereotypes. But it has its moments.

At weekly dinners, Brian (Carrico) has never told his mother Mae (McGee) or his Aunt Rose (Goans) that his roommate Dennis (Holland) is actually his boyfriend. Meaning that he must endure continual set-ups with potential wives. When Dennis moves out, Brian's loneliness tips off Mae and Rose to the truth. After the initial shock, to they decide to find him a husband instead, visiting the local gay bar and befriending a stripper (Snyder), drag queens (Dansoh and Palazzolo), twink (Nolan) and leather/muscle couple (Livingston and Garrett). But Brian has a surprise plan of his own.

The film is played as a broad farce, with camped-up performances that are never believable. Mae and Rose are so cartoonish that they're neither plausible (at age 52 Mae has never seen a computer?) nor likeable. Fortunately, they relax a bit as the film continues, and some of their dialog is hilarious. Brian is essentially the straight man here, surrounded by silly gay characters who are unlikely to ever go to the same bar, let alone become this kind of make-shift family. Of them, Snyder gives the only realistic performance, although his character's art student credentials are lost when we see his embarrassingly awful painting (he should stick to go-go dancing).

And then there's the plot, which ascends to La Cage Aux Folles levels of wackiness but without the emotional underpinning, snappy subtext or layered acting. In other words, the only way to watch this film is to switch off your powers of criticism and go with the goofy series of events and continually over-punched comedy. If you even remotely try to ground it in reality, it falls to pieces.

That said, there's a nicely observed story inside this film about people overcoming their preconceptions to accept both themselves and the people around them. And while some of the characters never rise above their plot purposes (worst is a sour-faced religious family that arrives for the climactic mayhem), there's some fun to be had in sitting back and laughing at these ridiculous people. But Sordid Lives did this so much better.

15 themes, language
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall