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|Shadows off the beaten path
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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 16.May.20
Cry for the Bad Man
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Samuel Farmer
prd Corina Farmer, Samuel Farmer, Jonathan Shepard
with Camille Keaton, Scott Peeler, Eric Dooley, Christopher James Forrest, Mark Poppleton, Karen Konzen, Victor Jones, Kurt McCall, Mark Wright
release US 8.May.20
Arch performances give this gritty home-invasion thriller a camp sensibility, as a mother struggles against three vicious men who want her land. And that's about as deep as this grindhouse movie runs. Even with the cliched writing and directing, plus rampant overacting across the board, filmmaker Samuel Farmer creates some clever visual touches, including superbly rendered grisliness. But it's far too silly for its own good.
Six months after killing her husband and getting away with it, Marsha (Keaton) is enjoying life on her own when Wayne (Peeler) and his two thug brothers (Dooley and Forrest) turn up, determined to get their hands on her property. They claim their father (Poppleton) had a deal with her late husband, and the Deputy Jesse (Jones) refuses to help as they menace her. Marsha's adult daughter Helen (Konzen) warns her against antagonising the men, but she stands firm. This leads to a late-night assault during which both sides claim to have the upper hand.
The film opens confidently, as Marsha wipes away splashes of blood from the house and herself. Jumping forward into the story, Marsha is quickly revealed as a seriously angry woman who isn't afraid to spill even more blood to protect her home. Meanwhile Wayne and his menfolk continually draw guns on each other amid their nonstop macho posturing, which makes them downright ridiculous. Still, Patrick Barry's cinematography captures all of this with a nice sense of light and shadow, using minimal colours (even the blood is muted).
The actors overplay their roles, giving broad stage-style performances, which feels hammy on film. Combined with the blunt dialog and almost hilariously surly characters, there's no one in this movie that comes across as a realistic human being. Peeler, Dooley, Forrest and Poppleton commit fully to these roles, wildly grimacing at each other as men who badly underestimate women. Only Peeler attempts a riotously absurd Southern drawl. Meanwhile, Keaton's furious Marsha is relentless as she takes them on with a massive gun, Schwarzenegger-style.
Even at just 74 minutes, the film feels padded out with long sequences that attempt to generate suspense. But Farmer doesn't supply enough information for us to know or care about what's happening. And various moments of speechifying add little to the stand-off. Wayne's brothers' idiotic ideas are far more entertaining, as is Helen's willingness to rush into the fray. At least there's one brutal shock and a chillingly emotive revelation. But even without a single light moment, the only response is to laugh.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Eliza Hittman
prd Adele Romanski, Sara Murphy
with Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Theodore Pellerin, Sharon Van Etten, Ryan Eggold, Kelly Chapman, Mia Dillon, Sipiwe Moyo, Amy Tribbey, April Szykeruk, Salem Murphy, Drew Seltzer
release US 3.Apr.20,
20/US Focus 1h41
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
BERLIN FILM FEST
Writer-director Eliza Hittman builds on the low-key, observational approach of Beachrats to tell a deeply personal story about teen pregnancy. Bristling with grounded emotions, the film takes on a provocative topic from an honest perspective. It's a slow-moving story, and some scenes are hard to watch, but it moves with an underlying, compelling urgency. And it finds new things to say about young people facing adulthood with tough dignity.
In rural Pennsylvania, shy teen Autumn (Flanigan) is terrified to tell her parents (Van Etten and Eggold) that she's expecting a child. She works in a supermarket with her cousin and best friend Skylar (Ryder), and after visiting a clinic learns that she's 10 weeks along. The clinic directors (Dillon) advises her against getting an abortion, but Autumn looks options, which are extremely limited in the state. So Skylar swipes some cash and organises a trip to New York. On the bus they meet the friendly Jasper (Pellerin), who offers help with navigating the city.
Shot in closeup, the camera remains with Autumn right through this odyssey. With minimal dialog, the film is packed with small moments that often seem rather random, but each adds to a growing sense of a young woman trying to take control of her life. As a result, this also becomes a strikingly realistic depiction of society through the eyes of a teen, with little sideroads that add meaning and impact along the way. And Helene Louvart's cinematography beautifully captures the characters' moods, including some deeply wrenching ones.
Performances are understated but beautifully complex, allowing the audience into the characters' thoughts and feelings. Flanigan and Ryder create strikingly distinct characters without saying a word. Autumn is watchful and wary, while Skylar is concerned and resourceful. They're so authentic that watching them sometimes feels like an invasion of privacy. In the scene that evokes the title, Autumn's conversation with a social worker (Chapman) is astonishingly frank, and stunningly well-played by Flanigan.
Because it's so intimate, the film never becomes a polemic, avoiding political arguments to focus on one woman's very specific journey. Abortion is never a good thing, and scenes also touch on important issues like consent and domestic violence. While Autumn and Skylar's financial desperation adds a layer of suspense to the narrative, it never takes over from the more internalised drama. And Hittman cleverly uses lighter moments to remind us that there are no easy decisions when hopes and dreams are at stake.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Robert Jury
prd Clark Peterson, Robert Jury, Maya Emelle, Lovell Holder
with Peter Gerety, Billy Brown, Talia Shire, J Salome Martinez, Ryan Hallahan, Bobby Richards, Patrese McClain, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Michael Brunlieb, Barbara E Robertson, Matthew Russell, Bradley Grant Smith
release US 5.May.20
Set in the Rust Belt, this blue-collar drama is an introspective exploration of the very real situation for millions of people who find themselves out of work with no opportunities. Even with its subdued tone, the film hugely engaging, as writer-director Robert Jury gently stirs quirky humour into the story and characters. It's also a moving account of damaged people who find their own difficult path to healing.
When a corporate raider (Hallahan) closes the factory in a small town, everyone loses their jobs. Middle-aged employee Allery (Gerety) and his wife Iola (Shire) are still grieving after the untimely death of their only child, so Allery simply keeps going to the factory, breaking in and finding things to do even with power switched off. As Iola worries about Allery, their neighbour Walter (Brown) joins him and gets the plant up and running again. Other coworkers are also looking for a reason to get up in the morning, so they hatch a crazy plan.
It's easy to identify with Allery's desire to carry on with his routine, filling time rather than searching for a new job that doesn't exist for someone his age. And it's fun to see how his determination rubs off on those around him, sparking several nice surprises. Allery's colleagues didn't know him at all, as he silently kept to himself, and now they have a chance to get involved in his life and see him for who he actually is.
Performances are wonderfully understated, finely anchored by Gerety as a private man who takes life at face-value. It's fascinating to watch him emerge from his shell. Brown adds bright energy as he reaches out to Allery and Iola, pulling them out of their isolation and rallying the neighbourhood, although his own demons threaten to derail everything. And Shire is excellent in a well-developed role as the concerned wife whose response to what happens is provocative and hopeful.
Even if the plot feels constructed and overlong, there is complexity in the way it unfolds. Watching Allery become an unlikely leader to this group of misfits is inspirational. "I just want to do my job," he says, simply echoing how work is more than a salary: it's identity. And on a deeper, even more important level, Allery and Iola find themselves confronting their buried feelings. So as this plucky group of trespassers dig in and keep the production line running, the film gets under the skin in unexpected ways.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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