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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 20.Sep.20
Hurt by Paradise
Review by Rich Cline |
Is it streaming?
There's a wonderfully wry sense of humour woven into this engaging drama about a privileged young Londoner simply trying to make something of her life. Actor-filmmaker Greta Bellamacina creates a disarmingly likeable vibe reminiscent of slice-of-life New York comedies like Frances Ha. Strong themes gurgle throughout the film, approached with such a light touch that they feel utterly effortless, which is no mean feat for a debut feature director.
Aspiring poet Celeste (Bellamacina) is getting used to being dismissed by editors who don't think her work will sell. A single mum to toddler Jimi (Montgomery), she lives in a one-room flat in Fitzrovia and spends days hanging out with her neighbour Stella (Brown), who is struggling to find work as an actress while engaging in an anonymous online romance. Celeste gets rather unhelpful advice from her sister (Burr) and self-help author brother-in-law (Eldridge). And dating Harry (Robert Montgomery) doesn't go anywhere. Meanwhile, Stella heads to the seaside to meet her mystery man (Wizard).
Loosely structured in a series of chapters, the film is peppered with skilfully shot West End street scenes and accompanied by Celeste's observant poetic voiceover as well as, of course, a jaunty indie-music soundtrack. Celeste also wants to track down her long lost father, whose rejection haunts her work. And her prima-donna mum (Wade) won't help her find him. A slight leap is required to believe these two struggling young women manage to live in such a high-rent area. But their gentle journeys are resonant.
The perspective flickers back and forth between Celeste and Stella as they pursue their dreams and face a series of knock-backs. Both Bellamacina and Brown are quirky and natural, realistically close while also getting on each other's nerves. Their dialog often feels improvised, matching the fly-on-the-wall camerawork. By contrast, the people they encounter are like formidable obstacles in their lives, superbly played by scene-stealers Wade, Burr and Wizard, plus Winstone and Rutherford in goofy extended cameos.
The film's steady charm evens out the meandering stream of micro-dramas Celeste and Stella encounter, right to a vaguely startling final twist. Each of these things makes a small but pointed comment on issues faced by those who don't actually need much. So when push comes to shove, they realise that it's their closest friends who define them more than even family members do. There are deep ideas that echo throughout the film, but in the end it's the connection between these two women that makes it worth a look.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Merawi Gerima
prd Mulu Gerima, Alex J Bledsoe
with Obinna Nwachukwu, Dennis Lindsey, Taline Stewart, Derron "Rizo" Scott, Jamal Graham, JaCari Dye, Julian Selman, Melody Tally, Ramon Thompson, Kamau Williams, Tyree Wormley, Makinde Williams
release US 18.Sep.20
VENICE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Impressionistic filmmaking recounts an elusive personal story using a variety of artful photographic styles, edited together with eye-catching energy. First-time writer-director Merawi Gerima takes a kaleidoscopic approach that's more experimental than narrative, offering a storm of emotions that only occasionally connect with the audience. Still, the film explores huge issues that reverberate throughout American communities, touching on the complex impact of gentrification, drug culture and unjust policing.
Many years after he moved to Los Angeles to become a filmmaker, Jay (Nwachukwu) returns to Washington DC to write a script set in the neighbourhood where he grew up. But nothing is quite how he remembers it. Jay reconnects with girlfriend Blue (Stewart), but pals Delonte and Mike (Lindsey and Scott) have no idea where his old best friend Demetrius is, and his childhood idol Dion (Graham) ended up in prison. Others have moved away as the street became increasingly upscale, and now property investors are pestering his parents (Tally and Thompson) to sell.
The loose central story is intercut with both bracingly current news footage and flashbacks to Jay's warmly remembered childhood (where he's played by Dye, with Selman as Demetrius). He also revisits scary moments of violence in his past, which eerily echo racial tensions in the present. The film swirls these scenes in between conversations Jay has with these people from his childhood. And while there are strong jolts of emotional resonance, the film naggingly refuses to find a rhythm, which leaves everything feeling somewhat disconnected.
The inexperienced cast brings earthy authenticity to the characters, with dialog that feels improvised and refreshingly random. In a star-making performance, Nwachukwu has terrific presence, intense but also thoughtful and observant. This makes him likeable even if interaction with so many people around him remains sketchy. The side characters are also bracingly realistic, even if they never quite come into focus. But Jay's reactions to them ripple with feelings that are easy to identify with, including a sudden violent outburst.
Jay wants the film he's writing to give a voice to the voiceless, worrying that his home is being "paved over by the whites like we never existed". But his friends feel like he abandoned them, seeing Jay as yet another outsider who is taking advantage of their lives and their struggle against oppression. This is a pungent, important idea that emerges organically, in bits and pieces. Gerima is a skilled artist, but a sharper sense of the story could have made this film feel even more urgent and essential.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Kurtis David Harder
scr Colin Minihan, John Poliquin
prd Colin Minihan, Kurtis David Harder, John Poliquin
with Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Ari Cohen, Jennifer Laporte, Lochlyn Munro, Chandra West, Ty Wood, Thomas Elms, Paul McGaffey, Aaron Poole, Megan Tracz, Darius Savon, Jaron Melanson
release US/UK 17.Sep.20
Is it streaming?
With this snappy thriller, director Kurtis David Harder cranks up the creepy atmosphere with sounds, flickering light, music and crash edits that unnerve the audience even when nothing's happening. All of which gives away the fact that something just isn't right here. But the mystery is gripping, playing on the idea of traditional family values as it viciously turns the screws. And what it says about society is urgent.
To give their 16-year-old daughter Kayla (Laporte) a better life, Malik and Aaron (Bowyer-Chapman and Cohen) relocate to a small town. Aaron starts a new job, Kayla finds work and makes a friend (Wood), and aspiring author Malik struggles with the smiley neighbours' underlying racism and homophobia. Marshal and Tiffany (Munro and West) seem nice enough, but Reinhart (McGaffey) is seriously creepy. So when Malik witnesses a bizarre ceremony nextdoor, he begin doing some journalistic research. The question is whether there's something truly nefarious going on, or if it's all in Malik's increasingly addled mind.
Malik is haunted by a violent attack from his past, glimpsed in flashback, which makes him hyper-sensitive, perhaps to the point of losing his grip on reality. And the film itself is a flashback, set in the mid-80s (including a reference to gay conversion therapy). This adds a vintage horror vibe, more about atmosphere than suspense, as things begin to get genuinely nasty. The script and direction kind of lose their grip on the narrative along the way, but the bigger issues get more compelling.
Performances are relaxed and earthy, as everyone but Malik seems oblivious to the grisly goings-on. So Bowyer-Chapman's role is by nature much broader, a deeply terrified man who's pretending that everything is fine, even has he undertakes some Nancy Drew-style detective work. Everyone around him behaves just a bit too rationally, leading to some bonkers interaction as Malik's perhaps unhinged perception clashes with the way others are reacting. And the supporting cast members are excellent at keeping their characters both offhanded and menacing.
Deeper themes about stereotypes and prejudice weave throughout the script, adding clever wrinkles and unexpected freak-outs. And mental illness also plays a key role in the story, although it's clear that the narrative isn't going to progress along conventional paths. The way these ideas circle around the film's central plot threads builds a powerful sense of menace, even if it becomes increasingly clear where this is heading. Even so, the final act is properly nightmarish, with chilling ramifications.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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