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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 12.Apr.20

Review by Rich Cline | 1.5/5  
dir Jamaal Burden
scr Joseph JD Ellis
prd Khu, Justin Price, Deanna Grace Congo
with Katrina Mattson, Amy Gordon, Justin Prince Moy, Robert Berlin, Brandon Grimes, Magdaln Smus, Timothy Shultz, Deanna Grace Congo, John Carlssun, Liz Congo, Dr Stevems, Joseph JD Ellis
release US 17.Apr.20
19/US 1h12

berlin and gordon
The fact that this monster movie was clearly made on a shoestring isn't an issue. A more complete script and some inventive filmmaming would have made a bit difference, instead of merely trying to evoke suspense without adequately establishing characters or situations. But since it's about a giant beast that wants to rip people to pieces in the most riotously violent way possible, there are plenty of unintentional laughs.
In a snowy forest, a rescue team reaches an abandoned lab looking for their missing scientist colleague (Smus), who was searching for a "yeti plant" that will revolutionise medicine. But he's had an encounter with the murderous yeti (Schultz) itself. Team leader Jill (Gordon) charges into the fray with ex-military meathead Bob (Berlin), while Pete (Moy) mans the base, and Sarah (Mattson) tries to re-establish comms. Then the team members begin to turn on each other, because some want the beast and others want the plant, when perhaps survival might be a more effective goal.
Everything feels about half-conceived. Sets have a rushed simplicity, and locations are even worse: amid constant references to mountains, the forest is utterly flat. The dialog is riddled with these kinds of inconsistencies, partly because of the choppy editing. Each person is defined with one characteristic (military trauma, sick child, brain tumour), while the yeti is just a tall man in saggy white fur, like Chewbacca's ugly albino uncle. That said, there is some clever camerawork, the canned score is amusingly over-the-top, and the violence is gloriously grisly.

With such a messy production, it's no wonder the actors look unsure how to play these scenes, aside from action movie cliches. But each thankless role has its hilarious moments. For example, Moy's Pete hears all kinds of nasty noises while waiting for his computer system to reboot, for no reason. Because key lines of dialog are lost in under-the-breath muttering, story details are baffling, as are the actions these people take. And their motivations seem to shift continually.

Not much about the plot hangs together, making it tricky to keep track of who's whom and who still has their limbs intact. There's something eerily mournful about the monster, and yet the filmmakers are uninterested in diving into political or ecological angles that are mentioned. As it continues, it's obvious that director Burden's applied the lion's share of the budget to the extravagantly bloody make-up effects. More of that might have made this a cult classic.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Apr.20

Gold Dust  
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
Gold Dust
dir-scr David Wall
prd Richard J Cook, David Wall
with David Wysocki, David Wall, Derek Severson, Garrett Marchbank, Maggie Hough, Darin Brooks, Chris Romano, Liam Wall, Finnegan Wall, Lucy Hough, Burns Burns, Jerron Webster
release US 10.Apr.20
20/US 1h41

wysocki and wall
There's a randomness to the humour in this indulgent madcap crime comedy, as if actor-filmmaker David Wall gathered friends and family to mash-up Tarantino and the Coens. But the gags are of the "you had to be there" variety, and most don't have a punchline. So while the ramshackle production values and storytelling make this a likeable car-crash movie, we abandon hope early on that there will be a clever ending.
In the American Southwest, Fink and Moses (Wall and Wysocki) are treasure hunters, always one step behind their rivals Winters and Wang (Brooks and Romano). They're sure that there's lost treasure buried out in the desert, and they hope to find it using a bunch of old maps. But this is Mexican drug cartel territory, and when they find a bag of cash they fall foul of kingpin El Guapo (Marchbank) and his dancing assassin (Severson). Then Fink and Moses rescue a lost teen girl (Maggie Hough), and El Guapo wants her too.
As a director, Wall creates an amusing comical atmosphere (with key help from cinematographer Egor Povolotskiy and composer Jessy Ribordy), with impressive visuals and a goofy sense of haplessness, but no menace whatsoever. The writing, direction and editing are downright scruffy, especially as characters continually run across arbitrary people out in the desert, plus a touch of magical realism. This free-for-all approach kind of undermines the rather dark narrative thread about how El Guapo uses kidnapped children to run his heroin across the border.

To match the film's tone, performances are broad and silly. The cast seems to consist largely of friends and family (including six Walls and three Houghs). Wysocki has the standout role, as Moses chatters incessantly without being terribly funny. But at least he's endearingly dopey. By contrast, Wall's Fink seems oddly uninteresting, only mildly bothered that he never went after the woman of his dreams while still pursuing her pointlessly. Everyone else is larger than life, even as they only barely convey a sense of the characters they're playing.

There's quite a bit of potential in this premise, but Wall only barely tapping into the the bromance between Fink and Moses, while offering just a passing reference to greed. Since there's no real suspense, the movie remains a gently loping farce with such a predictable structure that the only surprises are little moments of silliness that arrive without explanation or payoff. But the dorky charm and occasional decent joke keep us watching and hoping something worthwhile is coming.

cert pg themes, language, violence 6.Apr.20

Sea Fever  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Sea Fever
dir-scr Neasa Hardiman
prd Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell
with Hermione Corfield, Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott, Ardalan Esmaili, Olwen Fouere, Jack Hickey, Elie Bouakaze, Dag Malmberg
release US 10.Apr 20,
UK 24.Apr.20
19/Ireland 1h29


Corfield, Scott, Bouakaze and Nielsen
Filmmaker Neasa Hardiman wastes no time getting things underway in this watery thriller, sending a group of people out to sea where things quickly turn strange. Characters are established with minimal details, but their interaction is instantly intriguing, especially as tension grows and their stoicism kicks in. It's a clever film, focussing on the human element even as something else becomes a serious threat.
As she works on her doctorate, Siobhan (Corfield) is assigned to join a trawler sailing off the west coast of Ireland. The skipper is Gerard (Scott), and others on-board include owner Freya (Nielsen), young leader Johnny (Hickey), his aunt Ciara (Fouere) the cook, mechanic Omid (Esmaili) and deckhand Sudi (Bouakaze). Everyone's a bit nervous because Siobhan's red hair is considered bad luck at sea, and sure enough they soon encounter creepy creatures that have attached themselves to the hull. But they decide to get on with their work, even though something isn't quite right.
The film is strikingly well shot and edited, complete with subtly effective effects work, beautiful underwater photography and a moody score by Christoffer Franzen. And since it's so sharply played, it feels like a big-budget movie. Some of the writing may be a little corny (the radio is the first thing to go), but the growing dynamic between the crew members keeps the movie gripping, especially since it's clear that some truly nasty things are about to happen, starting with a grisly discovery on a seemingly abandoned fishing boat. And where it goes is properly unnerving.

None of the characters has an actual back-story, but they're such familiar types that it's easy to think that we know them. Siobhan is shy and nervous around people, and Corfield makes her remarkably sympathetic. Her connections with the rest of the crew have a nice variety to them, including the spark of expected romance with Johnny, played with a superb little hint of swagger by Hickey. The others register with little hints in the way of specific personalities or families back home, so we root for each of them to make it home alive.

With its confined setting and limited cast, the film is wonderfully claustrophobic. The fascinating way Siobhan addresses the problem with science enjoyably grounds the nuttiness in the real world. Each potential solution seems both viable and dangerous, and sure enough, the situation escalates, adding more suspense in the ways these people interact and refuse to listen to reason. Which of course is far more dangerous than whatever's lurking in the water.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Apr.20

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