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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 27.Sep.19

The Birdcatcher  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
The Birdcatcher
dir Ross Clarke
scr Trond Morten Kristensen
prd Lisa Black, Leon Clarance, Ross Clarke
with Sarah-Sofie Boussnina, Arthur Hakalahti, Jakob Cedergren, Laura Birn, August Diehl, Johannes Kuhnke, Jonas Hoff Oftebro, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Tibo Vandenborre, Christopher Dane
release US Mar.19 gsff,
UK 4.Oct.19
19/Norway 1h36

The Birdcatcher
Using English dialog in a potboiler set during the Nazi occupation of Norway is a bold decision by British director Ross Clarke. So as the melodrama becomes increasingly overwrought, the audience has a difficult time just going along with it. Thankfully, it's beautifully shot by John Christian Rosenlund, and the central performances are strong. But there are far too many unintentionally silly moments along the way.
In 1942 Trondheim, 20-ish Esther (Boussnina) and her parents are rounded up and deported, but Esther manages to escape into the snow, stumbling to an isolated farm where she's assisted by the disabled teen Aksel (Halakahti). She cuts her hair and puts on boy's clothing, and Aksel's parents Johann and Anna (Cedergren and Birn) take her in as an orphaned male farmhand. The problem is that Anna is carrying on with the local Nazi officer Herman (Diehl), and Johann's hothead brother Fred (Kuhnke) is determined to make a man out of this slight new boy.
But pretending to be male doesn't obscure Esther's ethnicity. And as a boy she looks pre-pubescent, so it's absurd that the men push "him" to do manly things like fire a shotgun. There are some close calls, some people learn her secret, and it all boils over when she's taken into a sauna for some sort of rite of passage. If this was the only problem with the film, it could almost be overlooked, but everything is played at a pushy dramatic tilt that never quite meshes with the material.

Boussnina is solid, sometimes even selling the idea that she could be a young lad. She and the superb Halakahti play their friendship very nicely, with a hint of subtext when poor Aksel isn't being repeatedly told that he's not manly enough to follow in Dad's footsteps. Cedergren intriguingly plays Johann with slightly unhinged air, while Kuhnke is simply nuts. By contrast, Birn's Anna seems rather unnecessary to the story, and the excellent Diehl remains even further on the edge of it.

While the film looks great, and makes nice use of the picturesque settings, it never feels remotely realistic. Everything is heightened to push the emotions, including a series of odd fantasy sequences as Esther imagines her life as a famous actress, or maybe as a moviegoer, when she's actually surrounded with epic tragedy. There's a rather awkwardly staged Titanic moment along the way, but some of the action beats are suspenseful. And the epilog is genuinely touching.

cert 12 themes, violence 24.Sep.19

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir Dave Mclean
prd Virginia Lee, Dave Mclean
scr Dave Mclean, Kyle Titterton
with Conor Berry, Tara Lee, Sean Connor, Grant R Keelan, Paula Masterton, Kit Clark, Carolyn Bonnyman, Blair Robertson, Mingus Johnston, Alastair Thomson Mills, Reanne Farley, The Shend
release UK Jun.19 eiff
19/UK 1h31


berry and lee
"Proudly made in Dundee", this Scottish comedy kicks off in high-energy mode and stays there. With its early 1980s setting, a pulsing sense of pop music and a very thick brogue, the film explodes with attitude as filmmaker Dave Mclean recounts events from his own life. The characters are likeably hapless, scraping by on sheer bravado. But it's not easy to find a way into the story.
When he breaks his leg, Fast-talker Davie (Berry) instantly falls for his nurse Shona (Lee). Hitting the clubs with his pal Scot (Connor), he spots Shona on a dance floor. And to impress her he and Scot create their own club night, hiring football coach John (Keelan) as a DJ and scrounging for cash. It goes so well that they decide to become proper club promoters. This means dealing with a range of seriously shady characters. But they don't have many options if they want to pay bands to play live at their events.
Along with a particularly strong use of locations, director Mclean gives the film a real sense of musicality, complete with frequent freeze-frames and a stream of pop hit references from a variety of styles. It's a bit of a problem that there are very few actual big hits in here, but this is the only thing that reveals the movie's low budget. Mclean's direction is as loose and scrappy as the lead characters, which is fun but never terribly involving, especially with such short, fast scenes. But the banter is amusing once you get into the groove of the dialect.

The actors are solid as chancers who have perhaps slightly too much personality. Berry has a lot of fun as Davie, but doesn't have much scope to deepen the character, even in some nicely slowed-down scenes with Lee. Their romance is sweet, but it's basically a given, rather than unfolding organically. And as the boys' biggest concert event approaches, the obstacles aren't terribly surprising. But they're nicely played.

The attention to heightened detail adds a strongly nostalgic sensibility to the way Mclean depicts his life. This makes the film an engaging trip into a specific time and place, even if there isn't much universal appeal, and very little for most viewers to grab hold of. The rapid-fire pace is also a little exhausting, and that it's all about impressing a girl is a flatly ridiculous. But as a depiction of youthful ambition, it's a lot of fun.

cert 15 themes, language, drugs 26.Sep.19 rff

A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
A Serial Killer's Guide to Life
dir-scr Staten Cousins Roe
prd Staten Cousins Roe, Poppy Roe, Charity Wakefield, Giles Alderson
with Katie Brayben, Poppy Roe, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Tomiwa Edun, Sinead Matthews, Sian Clifford, Fiona Glascott, Sarah Ball, Owain Rhys Davies, David Newman, Carys Lewis
release UK Aug.19 ff
19/UK 1h21


roe and brayben
A witty visual style helps this blackly comical British thriller connect with the audience, as filmmaker Staten Cousins Roe pokes fun at the very nature of defining ambition and "releasing the inner me". The film is sharply well made, packed with amusing observations on human behaviour. But in the end, there doesn't seem to be too much to it, really. Aside from a lacerating look at self-help culture.
A dedicated follower of pop-psych guru Chuck (Lloyd-Hughes), Lou (Brayben) is struggling to care for her demanding grouch of a mother (Ball). Then she meets the confident Val (Roe), who punctures her image of who she wants to become. Val plans to become the greatest life coach ever, so Val joins her road trip around the UK, visiting therapists who specialise in nature (Edun), sound (Rhys Davies and Lewis), birth (Clifford), and ultimately to Chuck himself. It takes Lou a while to realise that Val is killing everyone they meet, but she enthusiastically joins in.
The first glimpse of Val's seaside caravan home evokes the British classic Sightseers, offering a glimpse into Cousins Roe's underlying plans. As the killing spree escalates, the victims may be somewhat glib, but the filmmaker never makes them actually evil, which lends a level of irony to the goings-on. Indeed, everything is played with a breezy sense of humour, only barely glimpsing the darker themes under the surface.

Early on, there are heavy hints that the cynical Val is a projection of Lou's liberated imagination, and Roe and Brayben make a terrific yin-yang duo. Their performances are matter-of-fact, not quite likeable but with aloof charm. Braben cleverly plays Lou's initial revulsion, which is quickly replaced by a sense of empowerment. Meanwhile, victims are all hapless and (mostly) well-meaning. And Ball is perfectly ghastly as an extreme version of the hyper-critical British mum.

Even as this is presented for dry comedic value, there's a pointed idea about the nature of self-discovery. Val is bumping off therapists in order to allow Lou to be who she truly is, not who these pop-culture figures tell her to be. So in a murderous way, she is indeed a good life coach. The film kind of runs out of steam in the final act, unclear how to wrap things up and indulging in a rather obvious cliche in the sequence in which the women confront Chuck. But it marks Cousins Roe as a filmmaker to watch.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 25.Aug.19

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