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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 5.May.20
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Lara Jean Gallagher
prd Aimee Lynn Barneburg, Lara Jean Gallagher, Davis Priestley, Kim Bailey, Isabel Marden, Karina Ripper
with Otmara Marrero, Sydney Sweeney, Will Brittain, Sonya Walger, Chase Offerle, Will Cuddy, Samuel Summer, Gregory Brady, Sean Sisson, Camille Carpenter, Alissa Jessup, Clinton Evans
release US 8.May.20
Written and directed with a striking sense of intimacy, this understated drama is both intriguing and infuriating at the same time. Filmmaker Lara Jean Gallagher indulgently leaves most scenes unfocussed and unfinished. There are hints that this might spin into some sort of cabin-in-the-woods thriller. But even with strong ideas swirling around, the bare bones of the plot feel pushy and obvious, never quite finding the payoff.
Struggling to get over a bad breakup, Karen (Marrero) drives to the mountains and breaks into her ex's lake house. As she settles in, she meets flirty, enigmatic local teen Lana (Sweeney), and they quietly get to know each other. Lana sees Karen as a sophisticated woman from the big city, and Karen is intrigued by this naive younger woman. They hang out a bit with handyman Beau (Brittain), whose advances are rebuffed by Lana. Instead, she makes a move on Karen, spurring her to take action against a boy (Offerle) who hurt Lana.
The film is beautifully shot by Andres Karu, observing both natural beauty and emotional subtext. Everything seems to drift in slow motion, with halting dialog and dreamy movements as these two women lounge around the house and lake. Their whispered conversations circle feelings of being young and what it means to grow up. Along with this unstructured, observational style, there are some painfully obvious story points, including ominous messages from the ex (Walger) and, yes, a gun in a drawer.
Sweeney has terrific presence, holding the screen even as Lana feels rather wide-eyed and whiny. But there's a hint of mystery to her, which adds emotional tension to the interaction between her and Marrero's more guarded Karen, even if their sexuality is never addressed. Walger turns up later to briefly offer a fragment of confrontation. And Brittain threatens to add some badly needed realistic textures, but is essentially sidelined as just more unwelcome male gaze.
While essentially a double-whammy coming of age, as Karen and Lana each take steps to clarify their identities, the film feels like an act of therapy for filmmaker Gallagher to confront her own demons. In their provocative, mumbled dialog, Karen and Lana reveal insinuating anecdotes that feel oddly disconnected from the film's narrative. This includes relational cruelty and a horrifically degrading casting experience, which adds some topicality but overwhelms the more subtle drama around it. Which means the film never even says much about these the journeys these two women take.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Anders Banke
scr Michael Wright
prd Tom George, Andy Thompson, Nadzeya Huselnikava, Aleksander Kushaev
with Ed Westwick, Tom Wisdom, John Hannah, Corey Johnson, Pawel Delag, Ekaterina Vladimirova, Maria Bondareva, Gary Grant, Daniel Jillings, Scott Haining, Vladimir Epifantsev, Andrey Karako
release US 24.Apr.20,
There's nothing particularly original about this obviously low budget World War II adventure thriller, but a solid cast helps keep this rescue against the odds engaging. Shot in the over-lit, too-crisp style of a Lifetime movie, the plot is everything, while the characters and themes only get cursory nods. But the filmmakers make nice use of the winter woodland locations in Belarus, especially in some realistically messy action set-pieces.
In 1943, a five-man team led by Kaminski (Westwick) heads from London to Poland to extract a nuclear physicist who's being held by the Nazis. Pouncing late on a snowy night, they take out a huge number of Germans to rescue Dr Fabien (Delag) and his bright young daughter Irena (Bondareva). But the commanders back in Britain (Johnson and Hannah) have lost contact with them, so they can't send a warning that a Russian team led by Petrov (Epifantsev) is after Fabien too, tracking Kaminski's team as their extraction plan becomes increasingly complicated.
The script doesn't need to set the scene, as the set-up is so familiar. The characters are similarly straightforward, with plucky, heroic Allies facing off against cruel Nazis and sneaky Russkies. There's a bit of emotional engagement and soul-baring, but the dialog is mainly a lot of rattling nonsense about making a rendezvous at the crossroads and cutting off the supply route, or whatever. Director Banke clearly knows none of this matters, focussing instead on facial closeups with lots of furrowed brows.
Westwick brings a steely, over-serious attitude to Kaminski, who is leading the mission because he speaks Polish, although he never needs to since even the peasants are fluent in English. But while none of the characters have much depth, each actor gets to express his or her bravery, anger, compassion and so forth in brief quiet moments or violent skirmishes. In cutaways, Hannah offers some gravitas as a weary British colonel facing his own series of obstacles.
Virtually all of the more engaging moments involve young Irena, such as when partisan ally Sara (Vladimirova) portentously teaches her how to use a gun. Sara also has a hilariously rushed romance with the Brit Davidson (Wisdom), from extended glance to cigarette in about 10 seconds. There's also some texture in the working relationship between the hard-nosed American Kaminski and his more hesitant British cohorts. And while the outcome may never be in doubt, there are some riveting moments along the way, and some darker observations as well.
Gretel & Hansel
Review by Rich Cline |
Fleshing out the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, as it were, this horror movie has a terrific atmosphere full of gloomy intensity. Shot in Ireland, director Osgood Perkins unsettles the audience with shadowy scenes barely lit by candles, as dangers lurk everywhere. And Rob Hayes' script is takes an Olde Englishe approach that further adds to the gothic tone. So it's a shame that there's so little to it.
Because her widowed mother (O'Shaughnessy) can't afford to feed them, teen Gretel (Lillis) and her little brother Hansel (Leakey) must go to a convent. En route, they're rescued from a ravenous attack by a kindly huntsman (Babalola) who shows them a safe route through the forest. Starving, they're distracted by a cabin that smells like food, but while the resident Holda (Krige) is welcoming, she seems a little too eager to fatten them up with a lavish feast. Over the following days, they take on household chores while Gretel tries to work out Holda's intentions.
The film opens with Holda's backstory, as a beautiful little girl (Doherty) is given a deadly "gift" by an enchantress then kills children who wander into the woods. Galo Olivares' striking cinematography is hyper-dramatic, with inky darkness and bleak autumnal colours. The tone cleverly veers from darkly serious to bonkers nuttiness (magic mushrooms!). The expert production design also feeds vividly into a storybook sensibility, most dazzlingly in Gretel's unhinged nightmares, where she meets a beautiful younger Holda (De Gouw).
There's a cool female dynamic in the tension between Gretel and Holda, played with thoughtful curiosity by Lillis and dryly delicious menace by Krige. Holda may be overfeeding Hansel for obvious reasons, but her plans for Gretel are more intriguing, playing into the idea that Gretel has a gift too. Young Leakey has terrific presence as the opinionated 8-year-old Hansel. When encouraged to take yet another bite of pie, he moans, "Even if it bit me, I wouldn't bite back."
The economics feel eerily timely, as this family struggles to survive in a world run by cruel landowners. This lends a compelling desperation to Gretel, as she tries to take care of her brother amid increasingly nasty goings-on. Indeed, Perkins has a lot of fun mixing arthouse touches with scary movie trickery, including lots of jolting loud noises and almost-gruesome imagery, plus random bits of unnecessary voiceover narration. But even at only 87 minutes the film feels stretched out, neither pushing its pungent ideas nor becoming properly scary.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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