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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 13.Sep.20

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Sarah Gavron
scr Theresa Ikoko, Claire Wilson
prd Ameenah Ayub Allen, Faye Ward
with Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, D'angelou Osei Kissiedu, Shaneigha-Monik Greyson, Ruby Stokes, Tawheda Begum, Afi Okaidja, Anastasia Dymitrow, Sarah Niles, Layo-Christina Akinlude, Sharon D Clarke, Kaine Zajaz
release US Oct.19 hiff,
UK 18.Sep.20
19/UK Film4 1h33


Is it streaming?

bakray (centre), ali and stokes
Conceived and workshopped with the young non-actors in the cast, this British film has a bright snap of real life to it from the start, capturing earthy rhythms and depicting lively characters in scenes that often feel more documentary than drama. While the central storyline is fairly simple, the people are unusually complex, steering well clear of cliches to bring the audience on a properly involving, often moving journey.
In northeast London, teenager Shola (Bakray) hangs out with a lively multi-ethnic crowd at school, including her Muslim best friend Sumaya (Ali), who calls her "Rocks". One day Shola's mum (Akinlude) disappears, as she's done before, leaving Shola to care for cheeky little brother Emmanuel (Kissiedu). Over the coming days, Shola struggles to hide this from everyone, but problems begin to mount up. And when Sumaya and other classmates (Greyson and Stokes) offer to help, Shola harshly snaps, determined to protect her bond with Emmanuel, knowing it's under threat if social services gets involved.
Impressively, Shola's decisions are depicted as dangerous and irresponsible, a reminder that she's still a young girl. No wonder her underlying fear keeps her from accepting help, even as she demonstrates steely resolve. Director Gavron shoots the film intimately, catching the inner thoughts of the characters as well as their larger-than-life energy, with hilarious antics and witty banter. Gavron also makes terrific use of locations, often shooting scenes on rooftops that place the characters in vivid context.

The entire cast is excellent, playing a variety of scenes that never feel staged. Even with the cameras right in their faces, they remain grounded in their characters and situations. Bakray is excellent at the centre, letting us see under her tough exterior as she hides from even her closest friends. Ali, Greyson and Stokes each offer surprising moments in reaction to Shola's betrayals. And young Kissiedu steals the show as the kinetic, super-engaged Emmanuel, who takes his own pointed odyssey.

Without ever shouting a message, the film has some powerful things to say about British society, most notably the holes in the safety-net for children. Shola's fear of the care system is palpable: she knows their first action will be to separate her from Emmanuel, and she's not wrong. And what gives the film its urgency is that she also knows there's nowhere to turn, nobody she can trust. That Gavron can tell this story in an upbeat way, recognising that life continues even in difficulty, is remarkable.

cert 12 themes, language 9.Sep.20

Teenage Badass  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Teenage Badass
dir Grant McCord
scr Grant McCord, Matthew D Dho
prd Justin Cowan, Mcabe Gregg, Evan Ultra, Matthew D Dho, Grant McCord
with Mcabe Gregg, Evan Ultra, Madelyn Deutch, Dillon Lane, Elsie Hewitt, Tucker Audie, Kevin Corrigan, Julie Ann Emery, Karsen Liotta, Brandon "Crsh" White, James Paxton, Bryan McGowan
release US 18.Sep.20
20/US 1h39

Is it streaming?

corrigan, audie, gregg, ultra and lane
Wacky and very broad, this comedy centres on a rock band trying to break through on the music scene in 2006 Phoenix. While an awkwardly shifting tone undermines the story, there's a certain goofy charm that makes it fun to watch. Clearly the cast and crew had a great time putting this together, but the frivolous storytelling approach makes the whiplash turn into more serious territory hard to take.
While cleaning houses with his pill-popping mother Rae (Emery), teen drummer Brad (Gregg) gets a chance to join a band led by the talented-but-dim Kirk (Ultra), alongside sparky guitarist Al (Lane) and married keyboardist Mark (Audie), accompanied by Kirk's savvy girlfriend Candice (Deutch) and Al's girlfriend Tiffany (Liotta). When they perform on the local news, they catch the eye of local music producer Jordan (Corrigan), who wants to record them. Meanwhile, Brad begins a romance with local barmaid Melanie (Hewitt). And the main challenge is keeping Kirk from wrecking their one big chance.
The characters are hilariously dopey, which sends the dialog spiralling in amusing directions. Although this also makes very little about this film even remotely believable, including the fact that the band's songs are actually terrific. Oddly, there are some darkly serious plot turns along the way that never quite gel, adding over-egged drama to misjudged comedy. So when drug abuse leads to relationship problems and rehab, it's difficult to care what might happen next, even if the actors give likeable turns.

Ultra plays Kirk as a thoughtless jerk who makes sudden decisions without warning and constantly acts out, largely due to his constant state of intoxication. It's a consistent performance, but much more cartoonish than everyone around him. By contrast, the curly ginger Gregg is solid as a likeable every-guy loving the fast life, although he looks much older than 19. The script kind of neglects his journey, but it's entertaining to experience the insanity with him. And the side roles add plenty of colourful texture.

There are some enjoyable angles to this story, playing with the ways people react to the bandmates' talent, knowing that they're far too naive to survive in such a cutthroat industry. As the story continues, the filmmakers' scruffy approach is winning enough to hold the attention, even when it begins to transition from an over-extended sketch comedy into an issue movie with a feel-good ending. A bit more balance might have made this a cult classic.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 9.Sep..20

Up on the Glass
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
Up on the Glass
dir Kevin Del Principe
scr-prd Nikki Brown, Kevin Del Principe
with Chase Fein, Chelsea Kurtz, Hunter Cross, Steve Holm, Jessica Lynn Parsons, Nikki Brown, Burke Sage, Stephanie Mata, June Marshall, Ernest Ryan, Madisyn Bailey, Tom Schultz
release US 8.Sep.20
20/US 1h35

Is it streaming?

cross, fein and holm
There's a gentle sense of intrigue to this slow-burn thriller, which plays on the fact that its characters have a history with each other. Filmmaker Kevin Del Principe nicely juxtaposes sunny settings and cheerful people with dark undercurrents. But the dialog feels overwritten and, despite some emotional complexity, the plot is oddly simplistic. It's an admirable attempt at psychological suspense, but it never gets its hooks in the audience.
In rural Michigan, itinerant carpenter Jack (Fein) is living in his pick-up when he heads to a reunion with old pals Andy and Moze (Cross and Holm) at Andy's gorgeous house on the lake. After the boys spend a day exploring the local dunes and reliving their drunken youth, they pick up women (Parsons and Brown) at a local bar. But the weekend takes a turn, and Jack ends up alone with Andy's wife Liz (Kurtz), which freaks him out for a few reasons, including the fact that he's still in love with her.
Andy's shark-like business instincts feed into the tone, as do Moze's thoughtless jokes. But it's Jack's subdued isolation that holds the interest, especially as the writing and direction give his interaction a slightly awkward hesitancy. Jack opens up a bit more when he's with Liz, which begins to tilt the film into a grim romance. But the attention is always on Jack's inner turmoil, which means that the story becomes rather plodding, never quite making sense of the film's title, which refers to what happens when lightning strikes sand.

The acting styles are uneven, with Cross and Holm offering more offhanded, witty performances and everyone else behaving with a heightened sense of gloom. Fein has strong presence even with his deliberately flat voice and lost facial expressions, which skilfully indicate Jack's lack of an inner compass. And Kurtz's Liz also has a bleak internal life, haunted and a bit menacing as she begins to suspect something might be up. It's effective that Jack and Liz have extremely strained chemistry.

Despite a couple of very far-fetched plot points, there are several involving angles to the story, which touches on the impact of an economic divide on a long friendship, as well as the damage done by refusing to be honest with people you supposedly care about. But Del Principe undercooks everything, leaving the audience straining for resonance that's deeper than the "you should be shocked by this horrible situation" variety. Because what happens here isn't particularly provocative; it's just very, very sad.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 7.Sep.20

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