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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 7.Mar.20

Breaking Fast  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Breaking Fast
dir-scr Mike Mosallam
prd Seth Hauer, Sarah Bazzi, Bay Dariz, Alex Lampsos, Davin Michaels
with Haaz Sleiman, Michael Cassidy, Amin El Gamal, Patrick Sabongui, Christopher J Hanke, Rula Gardenier, Veronica Cartwright, Aline Elasmar, Rob Warner, Doug Locke, Sasha Colby, Diane Sellers
release US Mar.20 cfcf
20/US 1h32


sleiman and cassidy
A brightly humorous tone gives the dramatic touches in this gentle comedy-drama that much more impact. Set in Los Angeles during the fasting month of Ramadan, the film takes on a variety of serious issues without feeling preachy. And the best thing about the script is the way filmmaker Mike Mosallam so smoothly shifts things into a much deeper, more challenging level, exploring sexuality and religion with layers of complexity.
After Hassan (Sabongui), afraid of being outed, breaks up with Mo (Sleiman) to marry a woman, Mo drops out of the social scene. A practicing Muslim, Mo is a doctor whose sexuality is accepted by his sparky family. Encouraged by his colourful best pal Sam (Gamal), he gets to know Kal (Cassidy), a smart actor who speaks Arabic and is happy to join him for iftar, the daily after-sunset Ramadan meal. Their connection develops romantically, although they find themselves facing unexpected issues. And then Hassan turns up, now out and single.
Skilfully shot and edited, the film insightfully highlights the dilemma for young men often forced into show marriages out of fear. Mo knows that Muslims don't understand his sexuality and gays can't accept his religion. But he knows that being gay doesn't infringe on his ability to love God. And that not every hot guy is just looking for sex. As they grow closer, Mo and Kal must confront other issues, mainly because Mo finds it difficult to acknowledge the darker side of life.

The actors are relaxed and realistic, making the most of terrific dialog that's laced with witty observations and pointed gags. Sleiman and Cassidy are superb, teasing each other with little jabs, making each other laugh, generating authentic chemistry that never feels remotely forced. In the more outrageous queeny best friend role, Gamal manages to keep Sam grounded and intriguing, never quite going over the top as a non-practicing Muslim.

The film takes on the issues face-on, with good humour and earthy honesty, pointedly noting that there's no prohibition on homosexuality in the Koran. And that murderous fanatics actually misunderstand the religion they claim to be defending. The characters are complex and unexpected, so judgmentalism flares up in unexpected ways. The obvious issues turn out not to be the main problems. Indeed, it's tricky for anyone to fit into someone else's life. And Mo's most important discovery is that he should stop being afraid of how messy the world is outside his comfort zone.

cert 12 themes, language 1.Mar.20

Guns Akimbo  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Guns Akimbo
dir-scr Jason Lei Howden
prd Joe Neurauter, Felipe Marino, Tom Hern
with Daniel Radcliffe, Samara Weaving, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Ned Dennehy, Grant Bowler, Edwin Wright, Rhys Darby, Milo Cawthorne, Mark Rowley, Racheal Ofori, Richard Knowles, Set Sjostrand
release US 28.Feb.20
19/NZ Saban 1h35


Violently fast-paced, this merciless action-comedy relishes every moment of hyper-grisliness, throwing an innocent young man into a situation that's like a John Wick/Mad Max vortex. Writer-director Jason Lei Howden, whose previous movie was titled Deathgasm, plays even the most grotesquely over-the-top nastiness for laughs, celebrating each moment of death or dismemberment. While some viewers may be appalled by this, fans of trashy carnage will love it.
Writing code for a dimwitted gaming app, Miles (Radcliffe) is forcibly recruited to play Skizm, an underground online game in which participants must fight to the death. Waking up with guns grafted onto his hands, Miles finds himself battling the fierce reigning champion Nix (Weaving), while the game's sadistic founder Riktor (Dennehy) orchestrates the live feed using a fleet of drones. As events escalate into a full-on massacre, Riktor kidnaps Miles' ex Nova (Bordizzo) to keep him in the game, while a detective (Bowler) has his own reason for tracking down Riktor and Nix.
Narrated by Miles in a snarky internal voiceover, the film is shot and edited in a furious style, accompanied by pounding rock classics from Spin Me Round to Superfreak. The heavy artillery is ludicrously exaggerated, and each moment of hyper-slapstick and wildly insane action is accompanied with sarcastic dialog. But it only gets interesting when there's a sudden flare of random emotion accompanied by a superficial flashback. Or when it dawns on Miles that he has actually killed someone.

Amid the fantastical mayhem, Radcliffe somehow keeps Miles grounded in something almost resembling reality. He may be annoyingly pathetic, but he's a likeably hapless fast-thinker, and he develops some nice connections with other characters along the way. Although badly sidelined, Bordizzo is solid as the only other vaguely complex person on-screen, while Weaving has a lot of fun as the no-nonsense Nix, flashing hints of humanity amidst her frenetic killing spree. Of the cartoonish goons, Dennehy shines as the most properly bonkers.

There's never a moment of suspense in this movie because, even with quite a few sudden, surprising deaths, it's plainly obvious who will survive this ordeal. So the only way to watch this is as a maniacally unhinged comic book full of inventive but mindless brutality. Howden packs a lot of visual punch into each frame, making the most of a clearly modest budget. If only he put as much thought into the story and characters, maybe the bloodletting would be easier to stomach. Maybe not.

cert 185 themes, language, violence, drugs 28.Feb.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Scott Graham
prd Ciara Barry, Rosie Crerar, Margaret Matheson
with Mark Stanley, Amy Manson, Marli Siu, Anders Hayward, Scott Murray, Stuart Murison, Alexander Mercury, Douglas Russell, Caleb Imray, Lisa Livingstone, Euan Stamper, Mark Wood
release US Apr.19 tff,
UK 13.Mar.20
19/UK BBC 1h18

london film fest

stanley and siu
Beautifully observed, this film centres on a feeling rather than a story. And since it's set in northeast Scotland, much of the dialog is lost in an impenetrable accent. But writer-director Scott Graham and his gifted cast skilfully bring out an identifiable sense of yearning, the desire to escape from dull responsibilities of everyday life. So even if it feels slight, the film is packed with gorgeously resonant moments.
Finnie (Stanley) has traded youthful ambition for work in a fish factory, living with his feisty wife Katie (Manson) and their two sons: 18-year-old Kid (Hayward), who can't hold a job, and the younger Stevie (Murray). Finnie is worn down by life, watching Kid take the same path, out nights street-racing with his pals while struggling with the fact that his girlfriend Kelly (Siu) is pregnant. With his car out of commission, Finnie one night takes Kid's car and revisits his past, vrooming through the streets where he meets Kelly and makes a decision.
The film opens with a quote from Bruce Springsteen: "This town rips the bones from your back / It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap / We gotta get out while we're young", although it also owes its key emotional moment to Tracy Chapman. Graham powerfully builds the sense of helplessness, with expressive closeups and moody glimpses of grim weather and claustrophobic provincial culture. A key sequence involves a midnight race along a sea wall as huge waves crash over the top in the rusty glow of streetlights.

Within this vivid ambience, Stanley is riveting. There's so much going on behind his eyes that each moment takes on layers of meaning, even if the words are lost in mumbled dialect. Stanley's face and physicality shift fluidly, adding complexity to Finnie's relationships with Katie and Kid, who are played with a terrific mix of warmth and intensity by Manson and Hayward. And the extended sequence with Kelly offers Siu some surprising textures as well.

The film feels like an extended short, an atmospheric slice of life hanging on a pivotal split-second. And while Finnie is a compelling central figure, very little is actually made of the people around him. They remain in the background, seen through his eyes, trying to express themselves and make their own way in life. But that's not Finnie's story, is it? And it reminds us how easy it is to get so lost in ourselves that we forget the bigger picture.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 24.Feb.20

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