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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 6.Jun.20

The Departure  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Departure
dir-scr-prd Merland Hoxha
with Grant Gunderson, Kendall Chappell, Austin Lauer, Olivia Lemmon, Jon Briddell, Darissa Martinez, Johann Zerrouki, Emilie Pauline, Mirna Trpkova, Erica Felder, Eric Sanders, Martin Lafayette
release US 12.Jun.20
20/US 1h11

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gunderson and chappell
There's a relaxed, sunny atmosphere in this romantic drama, which casually explores the dating scene in a story about four young people working on relationships. The key plot point feels more than a little contrived, adding a moralistic preachiness that sometimes gets rather pushy. It's a relatively simple little film, and perhaps it would have worked more convincingly as a short. But it's involving and very nicely put together.
In Los Angeles, just as Nate (Gunderson) and his girlfriend Jessica (Chappell) decide to move in together, his boss Brice (Briddell) asks him to manage the New York office for six months. Meanwhile, Nate's friend John (Lauer) is struggling to get somewhere with his girlfriend Amber (Lemmon), who seems distracted by someone else. As Nate prepares to move, he worries about a coworker Jessica says always makes her laugh. So Nate asks John to try to seduce Jessica, to test her loyalty. But of course this puts both friendships and relationships in jeopardy.
The dialog has a refreshing everyday quality to it, veering from topic to topic without turning melodramatic about the bigger issues that come up. So even if Nate's idea seems insane, at least he and John talk around the issue to find a kind of insane logic, insisting this won't damage their friendship. Even though it of course must change everything. On the other hand, John's actions begins to feel rather ridiculous as the situation intensifies, leading to some unexpected twists and turns.

Performances are smiley and offhanded, with a nice improvisational tone that offers insight into the characters and their insecurities. Even as things get somewhat messy, the actors skilfully underplay their roles, stirring humour and emotions into conversations. On the other hand, it becomes increasingly difficult to like these people, simply because they're unable to deal with their jealousies, loyalties, desires and even the way they're attracted to each other. The actors cleverly play these things too, revealing how all of this leaves them struggling to like themselves.

"It's very complicated," John sighs when he tries to explain what's going on in his mind. And indeed, things get progressively tangled within the somewhat simplistic moral world of this story. It's not as if the feelings this situation sparks are unexpected, and yet Nate, Jessica and John find it impossible to face reality. And while writer-director Hoxha makes it fairly clear who the good and bad guys are, the way it plays out kind of muddies the waters, which is perhaps the most honest thing the film has to say.

cert 15 themes, language 3.Jun.20

1BR   UK title: Apartment 1BR
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr David Marmor
prd Alok Mishra, Shane Vorster, Nic Izzi, Samuel Sandweiss
with Nicole Brydon Bloom, Giles Matthey, Taylor Nichols, Celeste Sully, Alan Blumenfeld, Susan Davis, Clayton Hoff, Earnestine Phillips, Naomi Grossman, Curtis Webster, Andrea Gabriel, Hailey Giles
release US 24.Apr.20,
UK 8.Jun.20
19/US 1h30

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bloom and matthey
Opening as a gentle drama about a young woman striking out on her own, this movie quickly begins to unsettle the audience with creepy touches that are perhaps a little too easy to identify with. This means that we're freaked out long before anything awful happens. So as the narrative develops, the film becomes more of a high-concept psychological drama than an outright horror movie. Even as it turns nasty.
Arriving in Los Angeles to start a new life, Sarah (Bloom) gets a job and a new apartment with a hot neighbour (Matthey). The complex throws a welcome party for her, but there are strange goings-on at night, so she turns to workplace friend Lisa (Sully) for support. Then when she's caught breaking the rules for having a cat, the consequences are terrifying. "We're helping you," says manager Jerry (Nichols), as she finds herself imprisoned and forced to comply, taking her place as part of this brainwashed community. Then Lisa applies to move in.
The residents in this complex are a colourful bunch, including a wobbly fading movie diva (Davis) and a one-eyed man (Hoff) promoting a book on communal ties by a woolly guru (Webster). There are also intriguing wrinkles in the way Sarah so casually flouts the no-pets rule and then bends the truth when speaking to her father (Blumenfeld). This ingeniously adds depth to the Abu Ghraib-on-crack situation she endures as she is moulded into a model resident. But it also hints that maybe she's not quite as compliant as she seems to be.

Amid this heightened tone, performances are relatively muted, which keeps the audience off-balance. As Sarah, Bloom remains so internalised that there's a sense she's hiding something important and has some untapped reserves that will come out later. The supporting cast is effective playing people who are rather too helpful, insidious simply because they're over-involved, but refreshingly never over-the-top. So each actor offers engaging edges to his or her role.

This is a nice spin on the usual movie about a young person discovering that having an independent life isn't as easy as expected. Of course in this case, it's downright awful. And while the idea of a community of selflessly connected people is enticing, the way it's so violently created is frightening. Of course, the more textured thematic elements ultimately give way to a standard climactic blood bath. But even then, writer-director Marmor has some things to say about society outside this hellish complex.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Jun.20

The Surrogate  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
The Surrogate
dir-scr Jeremy Hersh
prd Julie Christeas, Jonathan Blitstein, Taylor Hess, Jeremy Hersh
with Jasmine Batchelor, Chris Perfetti, Sullivan Jones, Brooke Bloom, Tonya Pinkins, Brandon Micheal Hall, Eboni Booth, Leon Lewis, Leon Addison Brown, Tiffany Villarin, Erin Gann, Catherine Curtin
release US 12.Jun.20
20/US 1h33

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batchelor, perfetti and jones
With the snappy rhythms of a comedy, this earthy film takes on a set of remarkably serious themes. Writer-director Jeremy Hersh takes a realistic approach to a complex issue that's rarely handled with such nuance on-screen, creating authentic characters and situations in a way that often feels like a fly-on-the-wall doc. As characters clash, they often become very shouty, but the questions they grapple with are gravely important.

In New York, Josh and Aaron (Perfetti and Jones) are thrilled that their friend Jess (Batchelor) is carrying their unborn child. As Jess adjusts to pregnancy, issues with work and her boyfriend (Hall) drift into the background. But early on they learn that the unborn baby has Down's Syndrome. Aaron worries they won't be able to afford the extra care required, but Josh and Jess struggle with the thought of abortion. Then Jess befriends Bridget (Bloom) so they can get to know her cheeky son Leon (Lewis). And Jess realises that the decision is hers.
The mix of emotions threaded throughout this story is powerfully involving, as the film explores the truth about children with varied abilities: they are happy and engaging people who live their own full lives. And the reactions of the parents-to-be are just as genuine, realising that having this child will change their lives far beyond their expectations. Hersh's script never simplifies anything, touching on both positive and negative aspects in detail without ever becoming pushy. So where the story goes is especially punchy because it feels so organic.

The three central actors connect deeply with the material, making these people easy to identify with on a variety of layers. Batchelor's Jess is a remarkably positive presence, always looking at the bright side while still seeing the full picture. Her chemistry with both Perfetti and Jones is superb, and both actors bring out their characters' diverging, authentically shifting reactions to the situation without ever hinting that one feeling is more valid than another. Which is no mean feat.

The film's earthy, honest tone gives it a powerful kick, raising important ideas without generalisations and recognising all opinions as valid. Each character is a sympathetic bundle of conflicting emotions. Caught in the middle, Jess has a lot of intense conversations that raise a number of salient issues, going far beyond the central narrative to explore a much bigger picture about people who are marginalised. The film is perhaps overly based around heated arguments, but where it goes is provocative and moving.

cert 15 themes, violence 5.Jun.20

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