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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 31.May.20

A Clear Shot
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
A Clear Shot
dir-scr Nick Leisure
prd Justin Nesbitt, Rigo Felix, Nick Leisure, R Ellis Frazier
with Mario Van Peebles, Marshal Hilton, Jes Meza, Michael Balin, Hao Do, Tony Dew, Kevin Bach, Dang Tran, Rafael Siegel, Sandra Gutierrez, Mandela Van Peebles, Glenn Plummer
release US 2.Jun.20
19/US 1h28

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van peebles and meza
Based on real events from 1991, this thriller is almost undone by its cheesy B-movie production values, from cheap sets to rampant over-acting. Writer-director Nick Leisure has a nice sense of the story, but continually muddles the details. And the bigger problem is that he never looks beneath the surface of the story. There are some random moments of darker emotion, but nothing resonates enough to pulls us in.
In a Sacramento electronics store, more than 40 customers and staff are rounded up by four armed robbers (Do, Dew, Bach and Tran). In the parking lot, Detective Gomez (Van Peebles) takes over the police response alongside fellow officers Kappy (Hilton) and Advencula (Meza). And then the local sheriff (Balin) and Swat hotshot (Siegel) weigh in with their bullheaded "storm the terrorists!" ideas. Meanwhile, various hostages try to come up with their own escape plans, while Gomez thinks laterally to diffuse the situation.
In flashbacks, the script offers a look at the criminals, desperate young men who have no idea what they're doing. Their panic is scarier than anything else in the story, because it makes them unpredictable. But their ethnicity (three Vietnamese brothers and their Thai friend) gets only a cursory nod, including a hostage (Gutierrez) who expresses solidarity with their frustration, "If you're not a white man, you have it hard!" Or Gomez identifying with them as the child of immigrants.

The acting is mainly either of the furrowed-brow or wild-eyed variety. Van Peebles just about holds the film together with a wry sense of humour and matter-of-fact gruffness. When he hides around a corner and pulls a hip flask from a pocket, he knows the audience will chuckle at the cliche. The role is blatantly heroic, but Van Peebles grounds Gomez nicely. And while the perpetrators and tough-guy cops are over-the-top, the hostages are more believably underplayed, which helps offer the hint of emotional connection.

The way everyone behaves in this movie comes from hostage situation movies rather than real-life. At least the final stand-off has an authentic messiness to it that adds a layer of bleak tragedy to the event, which is the largest hostage rescue operation in US history. Credit to Leisure that he hasn't rewritten it as another rah-rah action thriller. And perhaps with a bit more skill behind the camera, it could have been a more thoughtful, even provocative look at how Americans seem to always turn to violence to solve their problems.

cert 12 themes, violence 26.May.20

End of Sentence  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
End of Sentence
dir Elfar Adalsteins
scr Michael Armbruster
prd Elfar Adalsteins, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, David Collins
with John Hawkes, Logan Lerman, Sarah Bolger, Andrea Irvine, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Denis Conway, Lalor Roddy, David Grant Wright, Sean Mahon, Mary McEvoy, Aoibhin Murphy, Marion O'Dwyer
release UK Jun.19 eiff,
US 29.May.20
19/Ireland 1h36

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bolger, lerman and hawkes
John Hawkes and Logan Lerman shine against type in this quietly gritty drama about an estranged father and son. As they hit the road, the film skilfully stirs ideas and emotions that resonate without playing into genre cliches. It's beautifully shot in striking locations, with a churning sense of authenticity in the way it approaches relationships. It's also never pushy, but the film has important things to say.
In Alabama, Anna (Irvine) says goodbye to her son Sean (Lerman) in prison as she's dying of cancer, cared for by her husband Frank (Hawkes). When Sean is released, Frank tells him she wanted them to travel to Ireland to scatter her ashes at a favourite lake. Sean wants nothing to do with Frank but reluctantly gives in, and they head to Dublin to see Anna's family. In a pub Sean meets Jewel (Bolger), who is escaping from a violent boyfriend, and she hitches a ride with them. But there are detours along the road.
In Ireland, Frank and Sean make several discoveries about Anna, including that she was once the life of the party, and that she once took an epic motorbike trip with another guy. There are several more stops and surprises along this road trip, and it's refreshing that none of them are overplayed. This allows the film to have an offhanded, sometimes snappy mood that pulls the audience in. So the story remains nicely low-key even as their trip turns into a caper.

Lerman has terrific presence as a cynical but charming guy who has no respect for anyone, especially his timid father. Hawkes plays Frank with a nerdy, matter-of-fact self-righteousness, clearly ruffled by his rude son. Their chemistry is strong as they butt heads, resisting what they have in common. And the gifted Bolger creates a vivid character on her own journey. She shines in a several sequences, and offers a telling comment on why women run off with rebels but settle down with men who are safe.

Sean's bitterness stems from feelings that his father never cared enough to protect him. "I had Clark Kent as a father," he sighs. "I wanted Superman." Director Adalsteins and writer Armbruster offer insight as they touch a variety of nerves. This father and son badly need to overcome their stubbornness and properly listen to each other. So their journey, becomes a steady stream of startlingly honest revelations, right to a lovely final scene.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 22.May.20

The Vast of Night  
Review by Rich Cline | 5/5   MUST must see SEE
The Vast of Night
dir Andrew Patterson
scr James Montague, Craig W Sanger
prd Adam Dietrich, Melissa Kirkendall, James Montague
with Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis, Cheyenne Barton, Mark Banik, Gregory Peyton, Adam Dietrich, Mallorie Rodak, Mollie Milligan, Ingrid Fease, Brandon Stewart
release UK Jun.19 eiff,
US 29.May.20
19/US Amazon 1h29


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horowitz and mccormick
With its Twilight Zone-style opening, this sci-fi thriller pulls the audience into a mind-bending mystery. It's directed with confidence and skill by first-timer Andrew Patterson from a remarkable script that barely pauses to catch a breath. Watching this movie is often exhilarating as it uses resonant themes to provoke visceral reactions. So while harking back to awesome films from our childhood, it tells us something provocative about ourselves.

In late-1950s New Mexico, fast-talking radio DJ Everett (Horowitz) is teaching Fay (McCormick) how to use her new tape recorder. Walking into the night, Everett interviews the chatty Fay about remarkable technologies of the future. Then as she starts her shift as a switchboard operator, she hears an odd sound in Everett's radio programme. One listener (Davis) has heard it before, coming from the sky. And another (Cronauer) has a chillingly detailed story to tell about aliens who have been repeatedly visiting Earth.
Patterson uses long, elaborate takes that bristle through extended anecdotes. Shot in artfully muted widescreen by cinematographer Miguel Littin-Menz, the image occasionally shifts into the flickering screen of a black and white television, skilfully evoking the period through technologies and attitudes rather than the usual post-war nostalgia. There are also lots of remarkable visual tricks, tracking shots, long zooms and blackouts that add to the tension and give this community an uncanny sense of connection.

Performances remains grounded as the situation quietly escalates into the fantastical. Horowitz and McCormick make a terrific duo, curious and intrepid, even as they begin to worry that what they've discovered has world-changing implications. Both wear wonderfully nerdy specs, emphasising their bookish naivete, but they're also fearless. And their relationship has some intriguing wrinkles to it as well. Meanwhile, Cronauer gets the show-stopping role as a mysterious woman who has waited a long time to reveal her secrets.

An exploration of the imagination, this movie is assembled in a way that knowingly sparks creative flights of fancy for the viewer, often by deploying the power of storytelling itself. It's also of course about a period in history when the possibilities seemed limitless, as did paranoia about both the unexplained and the Soviets. In addition, the script touches on issues of race and gender, plus government secrecy and conspiracy theories. And ultimately, this is a brilliant, timely parable about how insidious technology can erode free will, an outside influence with the power to change the course of humanity.

cert pg themes, violence 29.May.20

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