Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...


< <
I N D I E S > >

See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 11.Oct.20

Black Box
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Black Box
dir Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr
prd John Brister
scr Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr, Stephen Herman
with Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola, Charmaine Bingwa, Troy James, Han Soto, Andrea Cohen, Gretchen Koerner, Donald Watkins, Najah Bradley, Nyah Marie Johnson
release US/UK 6.Oct.20
20/US Amazon 1h40

Is it streaming?

rashad and athie
A horror movie based in the mind, this slickly produced mystery thriller draws the audience in with a premise that's impossible to predict. So even if the structures of the plot seem eerily familiar, it's an enticing and entertaining play on the present-day sci-fi genre. And it has some gripping surprises up its sleeve that are skilfully orchestrated by director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour and his hugely watchable cast.
After losing his wife in a car crash, Nolan (Athie) can't remember anything about himself or his life. His sparky daughter Ava (Christine) coaches him back into their daily routine, but he can't regain his eye as a photojournalist. Then his doctor pal Gary (Morohunfola) introduces him to Lillian (Rashad), a pioneer in reclaiming memories. She uses the black box, a virtual reality headset, to extract his lost memories and play them back. But something isn't right, so Nolan starts investigating. Either he isn't who he thinks he is, or he's seeing someone else's memories.
Since the story is packed with dreams, hypnosis and brain scans, filmmaker Osei-Kuffour initially makes it clear whether we're watching something real or imagined. But of course the sense of what's what quickly begins to blur, reinforcing the idea that this movie is determined to throw us off the scent of a much larger mystery. This is especially apparent each time a nasty crab-like man (James) turns up in Nolan's mind. And while the plot isn't particularly clever, it's outrageous enough to keep us on our toes.

Athie has a superb everyman quality as a confused guy trying to make sense of confusing memories that naggingly refuse to match up with what his real life should be. And the role gets more demanding later on. Meanwhile, the marvellous Rashad is thoroughly enjoyable as the slightly mad doctor who taps into his subconscious, gleefully dropping hints that Lillian is up to something. And the wildly talented young Christine very nearly steals the show with her energy, humour and vivid emotional responses.

The dilemma Nolan faces in this story is genuinely head-spinning, and as the truth comes into focus it's impossible to imagine where events will take him and what decisions he will make. Where the narrative goes may feel somewhat soapy, but it takes some inventive and rather jarring twists and turns that send unexpected chills down the spine. There ultimately may not be much to the film, but it's a solidly entertaining use of wacky technology that leaves us happily unnerved.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 6.Oct.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Phyllida Lloyd
scr Clare Dunne, Malcolm Campbell
prd Rory Gilmartin, Ed Guiney, Sharon Horgan
with Clare Dunne, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Molly McCann, Ruby Rose O'Hara, Cathy Belton, Daniel Ryan, Ericka Roe, Anita Petry, Dmitry Vinokurov, Aaron Lockhart
release US Jan.20 sff,
UK 16.Oct.20
20/Ireland BFI 1h37

london film fest

Is it streaming?

dunne, o'hara and mccann
Intensely personal, this Irish drama quickly gets under the skin as it centres on a woman who has been a victim of horrific domestic violence finds an inventive solution to her precarious situation. It's an intriguing mix of the happy and bittersweet, plus a few downright awful moments, beautifully directed by Phyllida Lloyd to catch internal feelings and earthy realism. And actor-cowriter Clare Dunne is terrific in the central role.
In Dublin, Sandra (Dunne) endures one hideous beating too many from her smirking husband Gary (Anderson), fleeing with their young daughters Molly and Emma (McCann and O'Hara). But social worker Jo (Belton) can only offer a hotel room, and Sandra can't find another reasonably priced property. So she gets a crazy idea to build a house. One of her two jobs is cleaning for Peggy (Walter), a doctor recovering from hip surgery. And she offers Sandra some land behind her home. Then builder Aido (Hill) helps supervise construction with a rag-tag group of Sandra's friends.
Finely shot and played as it is, the growing tension is perhaps a bit over-egged, as Sandra tries to hide this project from Gary, who is demanding visitation rights to their terrified daughters. Then as this erupts into a full-on custody battle, it is made very clear that there's something deeply wrong with the system. This comes to a head in a courtroom sequence that seems to be resolved too easily, even as it highlights urgent issues in a way that's rooted in the characters and the story.

Dunne delivers a powerful performance at the centre of the storm, navigating the shifting tone as the story encompasses moments of comedy, violence, triumph and sadness. The mix is sometimes awkward, but Dunne holds things together as the alert, open-hearted Sandra. And her chemistry with the astonishing young McCann and O'Hara is terrific. Meanwhile, Walter expertly leads the supporting cast as the supportive Peggy, with a notably unflinching turn from Anderson.

It's tricky to know how to react as the film transitions between genres, including kitchen sink drama, heartwarming family adventure, courtroom thriller and bleak issue-based commentary. These angles may help bridge the more melodramatic moments with the earthy realism, but they also leave us somewhat unsatisfied in the end, as the plot takes a few sudden swerves along the way. Still, Lloyd keeps us hooked through the likeable characters, and the lack of both preachiness and sentimentality makes it well worth a look.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 30.Sep.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir Abel Ferrara
scr Abel Ferrara, Christ Zois
prd Marta Donzelli, Gregorio Paonessa, Philipp Kreuzer, Jorg Schulze, Julio Chavezmontes, Diana Phillips
with Willem Dafoe, Dounia Sichov, Simon McBurney, Cristina Chiriac, Valentina Rozumenko, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Phil Neilson, Fabio Pagano, Anna Ferrara, Laurentio Arnatsiaq, Ulrike Willenbacher, Trish Osmond
release It 20.Aug.20,
UK Oct.20 lff
20/Italy Rai 1h31

london film fest

Is it streaming?

A provocative, often baffling collision of ideas and feelings, this bonkers film is impossible to watch at face value, as filmmaker Abel Ferrara takes a dreamlike dive into the psyche of a grizzled man played by frequent collaborator Willem Dafoe. The settings have a fable-like quality, with imagery that seems to come directly from the subconscious. It's a gorgeously assembled existential odyssey that's alternately funny, horrific and unnervingly thoughtful.
Running an isolated trading post in the Arctic, Clint (Dafoe) spends most of his time alone pondering his past. But are these memories, fantasies or hallucinations? A young pregnant Russian woman (Chiriac) arrives by dogsled and offers herself to him. In a red-hued cave, he's berated by himself, then when he sets off into the snow, he runs into his father (also Dafoe) before finding himself at a desert oasis. In a forest, he visits a magician (McBurney) who explains that reason is an obstacle. And there are miles to go before he sleeps.
With little sense of narrative cohesion, plus unsubtitled dialog in a range of languages, the film flickers around in Clint's mind, suddenly cutting to a bear attack, a mass murder, a naked dwarf in a wheelchair, a sunny Del Shannon dance break, a heavy metal bar brawl, as if he's being haunted by ghosts from his past. Ferrara's approach is audacious, sometimes hilariously so. And while much of the imagery is deliberately grotesque, it's beautifully shot by Stefano Falivene to make the most of a range of outrageous settings.

In what's basically a one-man show, Dafoe gives another effortlessly transparent performance, underplaying even the most insane moments. Even without much dialog, his everyman quality is easy to identify with, allowing us to see these visions through his curious eyes. The large number of people he meets along the way are only on-screen briefly, but some reveal intense connections, such as Sichov as Clint's angry wife.

The central question is whether he's a distinct person by himself, in the context of other people or in wider human history. Scenes flow into a river of jarringly disconnected moments, varying widely in tone even as the transitions are skilfully smooth. And perhaps it's not surprising that there's so much elemental nudity. This is a staggering exploration of how difficult it is to define a human life, including your own. And how none of us exists in isolation, even in our dreams.

cert 15 themes, violence, sexuality 5.Oct.20 lff

Send Shadows your reviews!

< < I N D I E S > >

© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall