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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 29.Apr.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
dir Rob Lambert
scr-prd Rob Lambert, Joe Varkle
with Zachary Ray Sherman, Sally Kirkland, Timothy V Murphy, Monique Parent, Hugo Armstrong, Travis Hammer, David Diaan, Adam Elshar, Patrick Malone, Jessica Jade Andres, Albert Abraham, Sevan Aliksanian
release US 4.Oct.19,
UK 27.Apr.20
19/US 1h55

Like Joker (which premiered four months later), this is about a young man who feels unable to get on with his life, and the voices he listens to offer no end of people to blame for his woes. This film has a much more in-your-face style, also offering intriguing nuance as filmmakers Rob Lambert and Joe Varkle boldly challenge the audience to sympathise with a reprehensible central character.

In suburban Los Angeles, Ronnie (Sherman) is feeling useless, his anger fuelled by right-wing talkradio and videos. He works a series of jobs, lives with his demanding mother (Kirkland) and wants to join the army like his late father, but he can't pass the psych exam. Feeling crushed, he wishes he was an alpha male who could take control. So he begins a hard-right vlog, and begins to build an audience. Then neighbours Bill and Candy (Murphy and Parent) invite him to help them shoot porn, which earns him enough cash to buy a gun.
The ironic title is slang, usually aimed at liberals, for someone who's weak, and this is the role Bill and Candy make him play on video. Meanwhile, Ronnie surrounds himself with people who rail about "how things used to be before the Muslims arrived demanding Sharia law". The casual racism, sexism and homophobia are vile: it's terrifyingly easy to see how Ronnie has been brainwashed by hateful bigotry that seems to address his frustration. And the rally he attends, hosted by his idol (Hammer), is downright horrific as it conflates patriotism with fascism.

While often over-the top, Sherman's performance offers glimpses of the vulnerable boy underneath the bravado. So it's eerily easy to see the nice guy who has been warped by bad decisions, lack of opportunity and manipulative messaging. The supporting cast members cleverly add details that play into Ronnie's increasingly warped view of society. So even if each role is somewhat heightened, it's also effectively grounded in the real world.

Even when a relatively level-headed friend (Armstrong) tells Ronnie his problems will end when he sorts himself out and stops blaming others, he continues to feel like the victim of everyone else's privilege. And since he's never had many chances in life, his downward spiral is vicious, which adds a layer of dark suspense to the film's rather unsubtle themes. There are fascinating textures along the way, but the finale is relentlessly shocking, partly because it's so inevitable. It's also frighteningly recognisable, and surprisingly moving.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 21.Apr.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr-prd Anthony Z James
with Anthony Mark Streeter, Nathan Hamilton, Russell Barnett, Emmy Happisburgh, Severija Bielskyte, Jamie O'Neill, Calum Speed, Lev Levermore, Tyrone Nestor, John Sims, Robert Anthony, Liam Woon
release UK/US 2.Apr.20
20/UK 1h28

streeter and hamilton
Artfully shot on an iPhone, this low-key drama is an original variation of the standard British crime movie. Filmmaker Anthony Z James lets the story unfold in thoughtful scenes that catch details and moods. So until it gives in to the requirements of the genre, the issues the narrative tackles are easy to identify with, as the camera gets into the heads of people who aren't good at sharing their feelings.
Released after a decade in prison, Tony (Streeter) knows his wife Valerie (Happisburgh) doesn't want to see him. But his now-independent son Conor (Hamilton) makes a wary approach. They hang out, getting to know each other as Tony reconnects with old friends, including his former cohort Dominic (Barnett), who holds a major grudge. Unknown to Tony, Conor's ex Kat (Bielskyte) is pregnant, worried that he isn't preparing for a secure future. Yes, both Tony and Conor have a lot to deal with on this particular day. And they really need to talk to each other.
The widescreen cinematography is downright gorgeous, shot in striking locations and edited by James himself. The story's rhythms are gentle, with strong undercurrents of unspoken emotion as well as some slow-burning suspense that leaps out of the subtext for a genuinely troubling final act that inevitably becomes cliched. More important is the way these two men deal with their own feelings about old relationships and new ones, as well as the questions they each need to face about the future.

James gives actors space to subtly underplay their roles. Streeter and Hamilton develop superb father-son rhythms; they're close but need to rebuild their relationship. This infuses awkwardness alongside the humour and camaraderie, while each tries to deal with his personal issues on his own. Other roles add some vivid textures here and there, offering varying levels of emotion and intensity that dig even deeper into the two central figures. The main worry, of course, is that Tony's past will undo his new life.

Before the overwrought finale, James' introspective approach is involving, adding ripples of interest everywhere. The quietly loping pace sometimes feels a bit underpowered, but it keeps moving steadily, adding insight into the characters and situations so that each scene is more resonant than the last. So where the narrative goes is powerfully moving, stirring glimmers of healing into a painful situation, as each character struggles to be the decent person they know they are inside. "I broke my own heart," Tony says, "and I need some help to fix it."

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 23.Apr.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Will Dennis
prd Adam Peryer, Tom Atwell, Will Dennis
with Will Dennis, Kelsea Bauman-Murphy, Kathryn Grody, Eddie Alfano, Taylor Hess, Johnny Sibilly, Aparna Nancherla, Lowell Landes, Chris Roberti, Sebastian Conelli, Anthony DeVito, Jaboukie Young-White
release US 28.Apr.20
19/US 1h27

bauman-murphy and dennis
There's a sunny, goofy vibe to this road trip comedy, which is populated by witty characters. Actor-filmmaker Will Dennis keeps things simple, with unfussy writing and directing that gives the cast members space to relax into their roles. So even the bit players are enjoyably stealing scenes from each other. And while the narrative takes some rather corny turns along the way, the film is consistently engaging.
Trying to raise cash to develop his ice cream app, Elliot (Dennis) sells his van to Kimmie (Bauman-Murphy), who wants to turn it into a food truck with her boss Sal (Alfano). Then the sale gets complicated, so Elliot and Kimmie need to drive to New Orleans to sell the van on to Elliot's ex Trisha (Hess). Kimmie's also hoping to collect some material for her aspiring stand-up career, while both are perhaps hoping for a little romance. Along the road, they visit some landmarks, reveal some secrets and of course have a falling out.
The story develops at an easy pace, as Elliot and Kimmie quickly find a spark of attraction, then spend a lot of time teasing each other and flirting evasively. As they come together as a couple, they develop an amusing concept for Elliot's app while also discussing Kimmie's secret sideline as a webcam performer. The unstructured approach makes the story's more obvious plot points feel somewhat clunky, but the film and its characters are so amiable that it's difficult to hold a grudge.

Performances have an improvisational feel to them, creating terrific ripples in the interaction while casually throwing away hilarious punchlines. Bauman-Murphy and Dennis are both likeable, witty and refreshingly unable to take themselves seriously, and they are also effortlessly able to flip from silly to serious in a moment, sometimes maintaining both at the same time. Side characters remain mainly on the fringe, although Grody, Alfano and Hess get some terrific running gags of their own.

In addition to the light comedy, there are some darker dramatic moments along the way that add a gentle edge of realism, although Dennis resolutely resists adding any resonant themes into the mix. There isn't much of a doubt about there the story is headed, and the journey is uneven, with some genuinely funny jokes and others that fall flat. But Dennis' approach is messy enough to keep the audience watching. And where the plot goes has a refreshing absurdity to it that catches us off-guard, ultimately leaving us with a smile.

cert 18 themes, language, strong imagery 27.Apr.20

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