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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 6.Dec.19

Kill Ben Lyk  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Kill Ben Lyk
dir Erwan Marinopoulos
scr Jean-Christophe Establet, Oliver Maltman, Erwan Marinopoulos
prd Erwan Marinopoulos, Edouard Duprey
with Eugene Simon, Simone Ashley, Dimitri Leonidas, Gretchen Egolf, James Chalmers, Bronson Webb, Ashley Thomas, Scroobius Pip, Charlie Rawes, Bruce Mackinnon, Andrew Hall, William Sciortino, Martyn Ford
release US Mar.19 cqsj,
UK 22.Nov.19
18/UK 1h17

ashley and simon
With a witty script and plenty of energy, this raucous comedy-thriller is entertaining even if there's not much to it. Part whodunit and part slasher movie, it's full of hilariously random characters, each with his or her own brand of nuttiness. Meanwhile, filmmaker Erwan Marinopoulos makes the most of his budget, keeping the audience entertained right to the final sting in the tale.
In London, self-obsessed vlogger Ben Lyk (Simon) is horrified when a man with his same name is murdered. As he and his best pal Roberto (Leonidas) begin to panic, another Ben Lyk is shot dead. So two Scotland Yard detectives (Egolf and Chalmers) round up eight remaining Ben Lyks and hide them in a country house. But the mafioso (Sciortino) who hired the hitman isn't so easily stopped, and as the Ben Lyks begin to drop dead, they start suspecting the police and each other. This leads to some rather insane acts of desperation.
The writers never run out of silly things to do with this premise, sustaining the simple joke to the very end. The various Ben Lyks are amusing: a girl (Ashley), yob (Webb), lothario (Thomas), hipster (Pip), rugby-playing priest (Rawes), banker (Mackinnon) and black-ops veteran (Hall). Even the cops and mobsters have singular quirks. For example, Sciortino's boss keeps asking his hulking beefcake goon (Ford) to strip off and reveal his tattooed muscles. And Egolf's detective must phone bedtime stories to her daughter amid the mayhem.

Performances are heightened in keeping with the film's tone, playing up personalities while adding comical touches. At the centre, Simon's character is hilariously obnoxious, likeable even though we wouldn't want to be stuck in a lift with him. So it's good fun to watch Ashley's sardonic character torment him. The other stand-out is Egolf, who riotously lampoons hard-nosed TV detectives with each over-the-top line of dialog, including how she arrogantly dismisses her subordinates.

The screenwriters had so much fun stirring prickly humour into every moment in this story that they forgot to add any subtext. So aside from the amusing tone and enjoyably nutty twists and turns of the plot, there isn't much to grab hold of here. In the end, the movie feels very, very thin indeed, especially as it repeats some of its better gags, like killing characters off accidentally. But the genre mashup is inventive, and the general atmosphere is funny enough to make this a cult hit.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 11.Nov.19

Knives and Skin  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Knives and Skin
dir-scr Jennifer Reeder
prd Brian Hieggelke, Jan Hieggelke
with Grace Smith, Kayla Carter, Ireon Roach, Marika Engelhardt, Kate Arrington, Audrey Francis, Ty Olwin, Robert T Cunningham, James Vincent Meredith, Tim Hopper, Raven Whitley, Tony Fitzpatrick, Alex Moss, Marilyn Dodds Frank
release UK Aug.19 frf,
US 6.Dec.19
19/US 1h52

fright fest

engelhardt, carter, roach and smith
Like a fractured fairy tale, this luridly coloured film mixes horror, black comedy and mystery, like a pink-washed Twin Peaks. Writer-director Jennifer Reeder shows the complex event that sparks the plot, then adds deranged details that make it ever more complicated. This is a story about hidden passions pushing people toward things they know they shouldn't do or say, bringing repercussions that echo far wider than anyone admits.
Ripples go through a small Midwestern town when teen Carolyn (Whitley) goes missing. Sheriff Doug (Meredith) is on the case, but he doesn't know that his daughter Laurel (Carter) is secretly seeing her best friend Joanna's (Smith) loutish jock brother Andy (Olwyn), who was with Carolyn on the fateful night. Meanwhile, Doug's pregnant wife Renee (Arrington) is having an affair with Joanna and Andy's sad-clown dad (Hopper), and no one knows that Joanna is selling girls' lingerie to the school principal (Fitzpatrick). But Carolyn's knife-wielding mother (Engelhardt) has a nose for what's up.
A range of moody touches hilariously undermine the soapy plot, underscored by a mournful school choir singing hits like Our Lips Are Sealed. Everyone in this town is hiding something, and as they struggle with the messy realities of their lives, they're also trying to get to the bottom of Carolyn's disappearance. "I'm worried more than I let on," whispers one choir student to another as they sing New Order's Blue Monday (How does it feel / to treat me like you do?).

The large ensemble is remarkably easy to keep track of, because the actors deliver distinctive performances that play with public appearances and personal demons. Both adults and teens are observant, self-absorbed and utterly messed up, but the actors make even the most annoying characters darkly likeable. There's perhaps more sympathy for the ones who are unwitting victims of others, but no one is blameless (especially the men). And where this goes brings up some deep feelings.

Reeder merrily veers into pitch-black territory along the way, not least in glimpses of Carolyn's own journey. The thoughtfully subdued renderings of a range of great pop songs is very clever, providing telling glimpses under the surface as these people wrestle with a wild variety of secret feelings. The film's densely hued sets, costumes and lighting add further interest and insight, especially when the interaction between these people begins to take surprisingly emotive turns as they begin to express their secret feelings.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 5.Dec.19

The Last Faust  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
The Last Faust
dir Philipp Humm, Dominik Wieschermann
scr Philipp Humm, Ellen Elkin; prd Philipp Humm, Daniele Mah
with Steven Berkoff, Martin Hancock, Glyn Dilley, Edwin De La Renta, Yvi Mai, Scarlett Mellish Wilson, George Keeler, Paul Orchard, Valerie Pain, Marlon Roberts, Mace Richards, Corinne Swallow
release UK/US 2.Dec.19
19/UK 1h47

de la renta and berkoff
Ambitiously tackling both parts of the epic 18th century play by Goethe, this film is more performance art than cinema, tackling massive ideas with inventively theatrical staging. Curated by German artist Philipp Humm, the film combines everything from future possibilities to ancient mythology in its story about mankind bringing about its doom by overreaching for things that aren't actually important. So it's hugely relevant, and not particularly hopeful.
In the year 2059, Dr Goodfellow (Berkoff) dictates a video message to his assistant Paris (De La Renta), telling the story of Faust (Hancock), his predecessor as head of tech giant Winestone. Goodfellow describes how their inventions are causing an imminent apocalypse. This started with Faust's pact with Mephisto (Dilley), who wagered with God (Orchard) that he could corrupt Faust. So while Faust created the most advanced technology on earth, he had tragic relationships with the young Gretchen (Mai) and the beautiful Helena (Wilson). And he lost his soul in the process.
The film is packed with strikingly current references to issues like global warming, questions about artificial intelligence and the #MeToo movement, even as the narrative spirals back to evoke images and themes from 20th century wars, the greedy Catholic Church, the advent of capitalism and the twisted myths of Greek gods. There's so much going on that the film continuously provokes the audience, even as the production remains oddly stagey, with flat backdrops for sets. Only the Goodfellow sequences are shot in real-world settings.

This means that only Berkoff delivers a naturalistic performance, and his inner passion shines even as he delivers speeches that are somewhat impenetrable in their wordiness. Opposite him, De La Renta is tantalisingly emotionless, and he also has a more physically expressive role as Homunculus. Dilley is smirking and gleefully nasty all the way through the film, but his swaggering never feels complex. And Hancock has a more wildly demanding role, spanning various ages and situations, looking rather a lot like Steve Jobs as he takes over the world.

Humm and codirector-cinematographer Wieschermann create a staggering variety of vivid tableaux to depict this story, and the film arrives accompanied with paintings, photography, sculptures and a novella. In other words, this feels more like a museum piece than a movie, designed to tease and confront the viewer rather than to recount a coherent story with empathetic characters. Yes, it's very difficult, but Humm's purely bonkers approach is dazzling.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 25.Nov.19

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