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last update 29.Sep.18
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Dizzy Pursuit
dir-scr Jay Alvarez
prd Alexander Fraser
with Jay Alvarez, Megan Kopp, Lorraine Bahr, Andrew Kopp, Jennifer Neala Page, Will Hand, Phillip Abraham, Benjamin Saks, Bonnie Auguston, Riley S Stewart, Jason Loitz, Eric Newsome
kopp and alvarez release UK Oct.18 rff
18/US 1h24

raindance film fest

Dizzy Pursuit Set entirely in a dumpy studio apartment, this hilarious comedy playfully explores the creative process of filmmaking. Actor-filmmaker Jay Alvarez is cleverly touching on how outside voices pick away at an artist, making it virtually impossible to remember the original vision. And he does this through a range of amusing characters, unexpected interruptions and wonderful stream-of-consciousness dialog.

It's a struggle for Adam (Alvarez) to remain chilled out with his girlfriend Carly (Kopp) around, pestering him about everything and freaked out by the bugs in their tiny flat. And now Adam's chatty mother Lisa (Bahr) is coming to stay, just as they're casting their independent film. She finds it difficult to remain quiet as actors read for roles. Then after she leaves, Carly's brother Steven (Kopp) and his wife Ashley (Page) visit for a few days. They're both amused and shocked by almost everything they see here.

Each character is a riotous bundle of insecurities, preoccupied with their own issues while trying to interact with the people around them. This of course leads to all kinds of tensions, mainly because more than one person in such a small space is bound to cause stress. Most impressive is how Alvarez makes this properly cinematic, shooting and editing scenes so that it never feels like a contained stage play. And there are throwaway details everywhere, from the noisy neighbour (Newsom) next door to Adam's concealment of the real cockroach nest.

Performances are relaxed and realistic, adding subtle layers to characters who are realistic and funny. Alvarez and Kopp have an offhanded charm that helps us root for them amid all of these distractions. Both of them are dealing with the same issues, but reacting in very different ways: Adam lets things slide and Carly worries. Their dialog is constantly spiralling out of control in amusingly inappropriate ways, played by each actor in a deadpan way that's loaded with irony.

The script is a wonderfully random mix of themes, as conversations veer from topic to topic. For example, talking about a recent stabbing in the building leads to a discussion of parental concerns and longer term aspirations. And the rather riotously full-on scenes auditioning actors read are out of context, understandably misinterpreted by Adam and Carly's guests. Little cutaways add vicious tweaks of humour at every turn, such as their guffawing at a screaming row among homeless people outside. This leads into a loaded conversation about rich and poor that gives the film an unexpected topical kick.

15 themes, language
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Lost Child
dir Ramaa Mosley
scr Tim Macy, Ramaa Mosley
prd Gina Resnick, Ramaa Mosley, Cameron Gray, Tim Macy, Sarah Johnson
with Leven Rambin, Jim Parrack, Landon Edwards, Taylor John Smith, Toni Johnson, Kip Collins, Mark Ingalsbe, Brett Osbourne, Nicole Parnell, Debbie Sutcliffe, Bob Johnson, Mike Wade
release US 14.Sep.18
18/US 1h36
Lost Child There's a no-nonsense tone to this drama that echoes the culture in which the story is set, the rural American South. It's a slow-burning but heady a mix of boozy frustration, post-traumatic stress and ancient voodoo. Filmmaker Ramaa Mosley layers intrigue and suggestion, finding depth in the characters as the story drifts very close to the freak-out horror genre.

When Fern (Rambin) returns to the Ozarks after her army service, no one seems to know the whereabouts of her brother Billy (Smith), an addict and troublemaker. Moving into her isolated family house, she gets help from Florine (Johnson) and quickly hooks up with barman Mike (Parrack). Then she finds the young boy Cecil (Edwards) living in the woods and sets out to learn who he belongs to. He's a gentle, perceptive kid, but the locals are superstitious, and Fern starts to wonder herself when her hair begins going grey.

Realism and fantastical horror mingle right through the story. "Drugs sure have a way of hollowing people out," the doctor (Ingalsbe) says sympathetically, referencing Fern's late parents. He also utters the word "tatterdemalion", which refers to folklore about a boy banished to the trees who drains life from the living. Indeed, Cecil claims that he has no family and refuses to say how old he is. But he develops a connection with Fern that she can't deny. And where the story goes is both pointed and clever, including a final twist on a tired cliche.

Rambin is magnetic as a woman weighed down by emotional baggage from her military service, then facing these creepy old-time traditions. She hears but struggles to heed warnings about this boy. Meanwhile, Edwards has remarkable presence as this enigmatic boy who has perhaps seen even more atrocities than Fern has. Each offbeat character feels authentic; indeed many side roles were cast locally. They're all so realistic that their connections and conflicts resonate strongly.

Several plot threads are powerfully involving, from Fern's attempts to reconnect with her angry brother to her budding relationship with Mike. She's haunted by her past, which makes her unsure about pretty much everything she encounters. And since the story is told so skilfully through Fern's eyes, this is how the audience feels too: increasingly out of balance, wondering if there's any truth in these crazy-sounding legends. And the way Mosley astutely weaves in comments about America's societal issues is perhaps the most chilling thing of all.

15 themes, language, violence

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dir Chee Keong Cheung
scr Chee Keong Cheung, Steve Horvath, Mark Strange
prd Chee Keong Cheung, Ioanna Karavela, Mark Strange
with Oris Erhuero, Carlos Gallardo, Mark Strange, Euan Macnaughton, Jasmine Mitchell, Katarina Leigh Waters, Martyn Ford, Joshua Dickinson, Michael Sheehan, Akira Koieyama, Douglas Russell, Robert Goodale
erhuero release US/UK 28.Sep.18
18/UK 1h58

raindance film fest

Redcon-1 There's a certain trashy glee to this bonkers zombie epic, which feels like it was shot as random scenes that were later strung together with a sense of a plot. There are gaping holes everywhere, and sequences are played with either thunderous violence or cornball sentiment. But it's also easy to admire the amount of work that went into the movie, the cast of thousands and the breathless pace.

After a virus escapes from a lab in Southeast England, region is quarantined as the infected attack everything in sight. So General Smith (Macnaughton) sends a crack eight-person team led by Captain Marcus (Erhuero) into the fray to extract a doctor (Goodale) who had been working on a cure. Gangs of both survivors and zombies terrorising the ruins of London, but Marcus' main job is to prevent his team from killing each other. And even when they find the doctor, there's not much time to get out before Smith blows the entire area to bits.

Basically, the narrative is a series of insane fights loosely strung together by this evolving quest. In addition to big guns, each team member carries a signature weapon: Marcus wields an axe, others use machetes, samurai swords and so on. This offers plenty of ways to kill the undead as well as evil survivors and innocent people in the wrong place. But the most-used weapon in this movie is the fist. And every fight is accompanied with literally buckets of blood.

The acting is as blunt as the filmmaking, veering wildly between macho heroics and slushy emotion. Even the lone female commando (Waters) is super-tough. Gallardo has an odd role that includes serenading the cast with a lovely Latino lullaby just after shooting a bound-up zombie woman after apparently raping her (the editing is choppy). As the leader, Erhuero is magnetic, including a requisite sweaty shirtless scene. His chemistry with sparky preteen Mitchell offers a respite from the machismo.

Even if it's ramshackle, the movie's scale is impressive. Set in an inexplicably thrashed London (why do the undead flip cars and bomb skyscrapers?), much of the action was filmed elsewhere, recognisably. But the crowd scenes are manic and intense, and there are intriguing ideas (such as the notion of sentient zombies) even if they're are oddly abandoned. Everything is frantically edited together for maximum visceral impact. So with a coherent script, this could have been a guilty-pleasure gem.

15 themes, language, violence
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The Rider
dir-scr Chloe Zhao
prd Chloe Zhao, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche, Mollye Asher
with Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Lane Scott, Cat Clifford, Tanner Langdeau, James Calhoon, Terri Dawn Jandreau, Allen Reddy, Derrick Janis, Leroy Pourier, Todd O'Brian
jandreau with apollo release US 13.Apr.18,
UK 14.Sep.18
17/US 1h44

london film fest
The Rider An intimate character study, this loosely fictionalised story of a South Dakota rodeo rider is so soulful that it almost hurts to watch it. But it's beautifully directed by Chloe Zhao with sharp filmmaking skill and extraordinary emotional insight, quietly capturing the story's details to layer resonant themes under the documentary-like setting. It's powerfully gripping, and almost overwhelmingly moving.

Recovering from a skull injury, 20-year-old rodeo champ Brady (Jandreau) knows he will never compete again. He relates better to horses than people, including his father and little sister (Jandreau's real family Tim and Lilly). His roughhousing friends act as if nothing has changed. But without a high school diploma, his options are limited. Then a local rancher (Reddy) asks for his expert help with a colt no one has been able to break. Indeed, Brady doesn't quite seem whole unless he's on a horse, but he's been warned that another fall could be fatal.

Brady's life feels at a crossroads for more reasons than his injury: his daredevil best buddy (Scott) was severely disabled in a rodeo accident, and his father has sold his favourite horse Gus. The film is photographed with a magnificent mix of dust and colour by Joshua James Richards. Because it's populated by real people, the characters all have unusual scars, from the scary gash in Brady's head to his one-handed colleague Frank (Pourier). And Lilly's singular form of autism also adds to the authenticity.

Landreau has great on-screen presence, creating a complex portrait of this thoughtful, determined young man. His feelings subtly flicker across his face, making him a compelling protagonist. Uneducated but fiercely intelligent, Brady is a haunting character, riveting and sympathetic on an almost elemental level. It's a devastatingly strong performance. The scenes of him patiently working with wild horses are simply gorgeous. And his tenacity in pursuing his dream to buy a new horse is both hopeful as well as darkly worrying.

This film is packed with heart-stopping moments, both big-sky scenes and tiny touches like a horse looking back over its shoulder as Brady walks away. But the most powerful aspect of the film is the way Brady's entire self-image is caught up in his skill as a horseman. And because of the jolly machismo all around him, Brady is struggling internally to face a truth no one around him seems willing to acknowledge. So seeing these thoughts quietly revealed in his eyes is genuinely heartbreaking.

15 themes, language, violence

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