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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 12.May.19

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Brian Welsh
prd Camilla Bray
scr Brian Welsh, Kieran Hurley
with Cristian Ortega, Lorn Macdonald, Laura Fraser, Brian Ferguson, Ross Mann, Gemma McElhinney, Neil Leiper, Kevin Mains, Rachel Jackson, Josh Whitelaw, Amy Manson, Martin Donaghy
release US Jan.19 sff,
UK 17.May.19
19/UK BBC 1h41

macdonald and ortega
Based on a stage play, this scruffy Scottish comedy-drama has a strong surge of nostalgia in it, as if playwright/screenwriter Kieran Hurley was remembering the fateful night of his first rave. So while this is a period film, it's packed with honest observations about being young and careless, as well as the understanding that life doesn't go the way we want. It's also both energetic and involving.
In 1994 Scotland, Johnno and Spanner (Ortega and Macdonald) have grown up together but are now seeing their lives begin to diverge. Johnno's single mother Alison (Fraser) is planning to move them to a new house in another town, helped by her boyfriend Robert (Ferguson), a local cop. Meanwhile, Spanner lives with his petty-criminal brother Fido (Leiper), and everyone warns Johnno that he needs to get far away from them. Then Spanner hears about an underground rave, so he steals Fido's stash and convinces Johnno to join him on one last epic night together.
On this wild adventure, the boys are accompanied by the event's deejay D-Man (Mann), who's just taken acid, and Johnno's crush Laura (McElhinney), who has just dumped her super-violent boyfriend (Mains). Shooting in black and white to add to the sense of timeless history, filmmaker Welsh corrals these characters cleverly, setting them on a collision course. But the real story is about friendship between two very different teen boys whose lifelong connection is tested.

Both actors are excellent. Ortega's Johnno wears a permanent look of scepticism about the outrageous behaviour from everyone around him. Stubborn and intelligent, he finds the pressures of his life nearly unbearable. By contrast, Macdonald's Spanner is a freeform, over-exuberant guy who thinks rules are for idiots. They clearly didn't worry about their differences when they were younger, but now their ambitions head in opposite directions. The supporting cast give their characters terrific inner lives as well, adding textures to the movie and layers of meaning.

The film culminates in a vibrant explosion of colour, animation, film clips and pure, unbridled joy at the rave, a subculture the UK government is trying to suppress through legislation against public events involving repetitive beats. Intriguingly, the political background noise that runs through the film never locks the story in the past; it simply notes how government officials always get it wrong. And this movie reminds us that our messiest memories have a lot more to say about who we are than we might like them to.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 25.Apr.19

Just Say Goodbye
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
Just Say Goodbye
dir Matt Walting
scr Layla O'Shea
prd Matt Walting, Layla O'Shea
with Katerina Eichenberger, Max MacKenzie, William Galatis, Jesse Walters, Pamela Jayne Morgan, Charlotte Cusmano Zanolli, Olivia Nossiff, Joseph Colangelo, Kk Walulak, Richard Wingert, Aidan Laliberte, Paul Walting
release US 10.May.19
17/US 1h46

mackenzie and eichenberger
With an often startlingly dark story and engaging characters, this independent film is able to overcome its low budget and inexperienced crew. This is a pointed, edgy drama that grapples with huge themes using a narrative that grips the viewer due to its unexpected twists and turns. The ultimate message may be far too obvious, but the film has important things to say.
After his mother (Nossiff) commits suicide, Jesse (Colangelo) is further traumatised when his hothead father Rick (Galatis) purges her memory from their home. A decade later, 16-year-old Jesse (now MacKenzie) is a badly bullied loner who hangs out at school with his sparky best friend Sarah (Eichenberger). One day he confesses to her that he's planning to kill himself as summer begins, on his birthday, while she's visiting her father in New York. So Sarah sets out to convince him to change his mind, even as other circumstances close in around him.
The themes are provocative enough to hold the interest, even as the film's photography and sound mix reveal the filmmakers' inexperience, as do some odd lapses in the script (do teen bullies often go swimming in a lake at 7.30 on Saturday morning?). There are also moments that carry an evocative punch as Jesse grapples with the question of his own existence, seeking a reason for his mother's death and his father's alcoholism. Various revelations that come along the way add uneasy angles to the story; these are pungent even if the movie becomes a bit soapy as a result.

With a nicely offhanded performance, MacKenzie brings a wry sense of humour to Jesse that prevents the character from turning maudlin. Jesse is so matter-of-fact about his plan that it's unnerving. This adds a remarkable charge to his interaction with Sarah. And Eichenberger brings the audience into the story with a combination of prickly emotion and earthy sensitivity. The supporting cast is a little uneven, as most of the adults overplay their roles, as does Walters as Jesse's main tormentor at school.

Where this goes is often overwhelmingly heartbreaking, especially as Rick's cruelty seems to know no bounds. As events spiral in increasingly frightening directions, in becomes clear that the filmmakers are pushing a message here, sometimes in a rather preachy and simplistic way. But their point is a strong one, reminding us that it's important to avoid wallowing in our own misery, especially when it so strongly affects the people around us.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 9.May.19

Thunder Road
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Thunder Road
dir-scr Jim Cummings
prd Natalie Metzger, Zack Parker, Benjamin Wiessner
with Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Jocelyn DeBoer, Chelsea Edmundson, Macon Blair, Ammie Masterson, Bill Wise, Jordan Ray Fox, Kevin Changaris, Jacqueline Doke, Tristan Riggs
release US 12.Oct.18,
UK 31.May.19
18/US 1h32

london film fest

cummings and farr
Striking a resolutely original tone, writer-director-actor Jim Cummings has made a film that can be defined as either a comedy or drama, but not as a comedy-drama. The humour is so dry and pitch-black that any laughter is of the wry, embarrassed kind, while the on-screen characters convulse with intense emotions in the most awkward ways imaginable. This makes the movie a little hard to watch, but it's so inventive that it deserves to be seen.
At his mother's funeral, police officer Jim (Cummings) completely loses it while trying to deliver the eulogy. This sends him spiralling into a frustrating battle with his cynical ex-wife Ros (DeBoer) for custody of his bright but rather troublesome young daughter Crystal (Farr). So even though his partner Nate (Robinson) has his back, Jim is struggling to make decisions that help him move forward, jeopardising both his custody of Crystal and his job. It seems like everyone is out to get him, which of course further pushes him into an emotional hole.
Yes, the material is actually very dark, but Jim's clumsy approach to each situation makes him uncomfortably endearing. Sometimes he's his own worst enemy, but there's also a sense that there's an existential conspiracy against him. He just can't get a break, which is certainly a feeling that will resonate with most viewers. Watching his life fall apart around him is very painful, but he continually pulls himself together and faces things with a misplaced optimism that's powerfully moving.

Cummings is terrific in the role, making the most of his physicality in scenes that are often astonishingly difficult. Many sequences are shot in agonising long takes that seem to get worse and worse as they go along, but also reveal details that help the audience root for Jim against the odds. And his explosive emotions make him feel even more realistic, especially with hints about his childhood. The supporting cast all deliver often unnervingly grounded performances, realistic people surrounding this sad, clown-like nice guy.

The film's tone is so unusual that it's impossible to think of another movie like it. Cummings tells this story with a profound reservoir of feeling, making his pathetic protagonist into an almost heroic figure as he continually comes back from the brink. The final sequence is simply astonishing, taking Jim to a place far beyond what the audience expects. If it doesn't exasperate you, this film will leave you shaken and empowered. And also oddly bemused. Extraordinary.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.May.19

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