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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 28.Jun.20

Black Magic for White Boys  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Black Magic for White Boys
dir-scr Onur Tukel
prd Gigi Graff, Onur Tukel
with Ronald Guttman, Onur Tukel, Lou Jay Taylor, Charlie LaRose, Eva Dorrepaal, Leah Shore, Colin Buckingham, Brendan Miller, Brian W Smith, Franck Raharinosy, Lisa Azuelos, Karl Jacob, Kevin Corrigan
release US 3.Jul.20
19/US 1h45

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shore, guttman, buckingham and dorrepaal
Fast and chattery, this New York comedy has a huge ensemble and a plot that feels like it's spiralling out of control from the start. Writer-director Onur Tukel clearly enjoys telling stories about terrible people, so this movie is packed with them. Overlong and a bit flabby, it also involves a heavy dose of supernatural intervention. And as the title suggests, the racial undercurrents are deliberately provocative.
Magician Larry (Guttman) has a new intern Leah (Shore), helping run his elaborate tricks with assistant Lucy (Dorrepaal), stagehand Dean (Buckingham) and theatre manager Quentin (Smith). But the fact that he uses real magic makes them nervous. In the audience one night are friends Oscar and Jamie (Tukel and Taylor), property owners on blind dates. Oscar is shocked that his date Chase (LaRose) is pregnant, while Jamie has just hiked the rent on his tenants, who are fighting back. And both think Larry's sorcery can solve their problems, regardless of the side effects.
The film's rambling structure is hilariously unfocussed, crosscutting between a variety of characters who have their own neuroses as they fail to deal with their own awkward situations. The dialog has a witty, improvisational tone that's generally amusing, with some hilarious one-liners along the way. And the fact that people of colour are the victims of this ill-used wizardry adds a pointed kick. There's also the parallel story of Fred (Raharinosy), who helps people his box of all-purpose drugs. He might even have a pill that will make someone a better person, like magic.

The characters are enjoyably messy, making a string of very dodgy decisions. They're not necessarily bad people, but they're also not remotely likeable. At the centre, Guttman has a godlike smugness about his powers, blithely playing with power he may not understand. A lively double-act, Tukel and Taylor are funny and astonishingly cruel. There are a few nicer side characters to engage with, but they're not as interesting as the horrible ones, especially Miller as Leah's bigoted hothead boyfriend.

Basically, each person in this film wants to take a shortcut to solve his or her problem, either using medicine, magic or both. None of these breathtakingly self-absorbed idiots is wiling to actually put in the work required. Tighter editing would have helped focus more coherently on the story and themes. Tukel's loose approach allows for quite a bit of unnecessary repetition, but even the most random sideroad is vividly well-played. And the subtler thematic jabs hit the mark.

cert 15 themes, language 30.Jun.20

Midnight Kiss  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Midnight Kiss
dir Carter Smith
scr Erlingur Thoroddsen
prd Tevin Adelman
with Augustus Prew, Scott Evans, Ayden Mayeri, Lukas Gage, Adam Faison, Chester Lockhart, Will Westwater, Colin McCalla, Jonnie Reinhardt
release US 27.Dec.19,
UK Mar.20 flare
19/US Hulu 1h29

bfi flare

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prew and faison
There's a relaxed, witty tone to this offbeat slasher horror, which is set in the gay subculture. A sunny, colourful setting and vividly created characters make it engaging on a variety of levels, and the filmmakers cleverly mash-up sexy encounters with a bit of proper grisliness. There are some clumsy attempts to stir bigger themes into the story, but it's the interpersonal elements that make it worth a look.
A group of longtime gay friends is heading to a gorgeous house outside Palm Springs to celebrate New Year. Joel (Evans) brings his new man Logan (Gage), photographer Cameron (Prew) is documenting the fun, and Zachary arrives fashionably late, like the diva model he is. There's also their straight-girl pal Hannah (Mayeri), who introduces the rules for their annual midnight kiss game. While hanging out, issues from their history together begin to emerge, as do some darker attitudes. Then when they head out to the nightclub, they're unaware that a killer is in their midst.
The film opens with the grisly shower murder of the one friend (Westwater) who was unable to join the party. And it doesn't take long for the same masked figure to turn up in the desert and begin knocking others off one by one. In between, each of these people gets up to a variety of activities that reveal things about their personalities, including things that are starkly disturbing. This adds romantic entanglements and dramatic tension alongside the ever-present threat of imminent death. So the longer the film goes, the less we want anyone to die.

There are several intriguing dynamics between the characters, including secret attractions, jealousies and lost relationships. This allows the actors to keep the characters complex and likeable, even though they're not always nice. At the centre, Prew is solid as the thoughtful, observant Cameron, who has very specific connections with each character, including his ex Joel, whom Evans commits to playing as an unapologetic control freak. Meyeri offers standout support, a breath of fresh air who kind of remains outside the fray.

The murders are startlingly violent, and bring some surprises as well. So as we become invested in the characters, what happens feels increasingly meaningful in the bigger picture. Director Smith and writer Thoroddsen come up with some clever twists on the usual formula, throwing us off the scent before pouncing later. And they develop suspense properly, without cheap scares. The revelation of whodunit is overplayed and not terribly surprising. But it's remarkably nasty, and signs things off with a flourish.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 27.Jun.20

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