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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 26.May.21|
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Danielle Lessovitz
prd Rodrigo Teixeira, Virginie Lacombe, Zachary Luke Kislevitz
with Fionn Whitehead, Leyna Bloom, McCaul Lombardi, Louisa Krause, Devon Carpenter, Christopher "Afrika" Quarles, Eddie Plaza, Taliek Jeqon, William Dufault, Stephen Cavalieri, Azza Melton, Max Kpoyour
release US 28.May.21
CANNES FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
There's a freeform sensibility to this drama about a young man adrift in the big city as an unexpected romance challenges his closed mind. The relaxed plot and filmmaking are contrived to push the characters in specific ways, but there are strong moments along the way. Writer-director Danielle Lessovitz creates a wonderfully tactile atmosphere, with improv-style dialog and a side of New York culture that's rarely depicted on-screen.
Arriving in Manhattan, 20-year-old Paul (Whitehead) is instantly mugged. He's taken in by Lee (Lombardi), who employs a team of delinquents on his laddish rent-extortion crew. Paul's plan to live with his sister Sara (Krause) doesn't materialise, and he becomes fascinated by lively young people voguing on the kiki ballroom scene, quickly falling for Wye (Bloom), a friendly dancer in the House of McQueen. When Paul finds out that Wye is trans, he isn't sure what to think. He likes her enough to hang around, but not enough to tell her the truth about himself.
With oddly drab cinematography, things are livened up when colourful characters appear, such as Wye's hilariously catty house brothers (including Plaza and Jegon) and their "mother" (Quarles). And a few densely hued ballroom sequences offer a blast of edgy energy. Meanwhile, there are murky currents rising in the narrative, as Paul struggles to find the place where he belongs, maintaining a strict divide between his tough-guy colleagues and Wye's more openly emotive family. Basically, he just needs to be honest with himself.
Because of the film's loose structure, there isn't much scope for character development. Whitehead's Paul seems to only have a few moods, either angry or confused. The actor hints at more interesting layers, but Paul is deliberately opaque, with only occasional glimpses of personality. Which makes him very hard to like, especially as he lies to others and himself. Bloom's Wye is more engaging, open and likeable, with a sparky curiosity. Scenes in which they open up to each other are low-key and nicely played.
It's refreshing that Lessovitz never over-eggs the story's bigger themes, maintaining an intimate tone as she knowingly grapples with sexuality and bigotry, as well as Paul's internalised homophobia. Along with prejudice and deception swirling everywhere, all the straight men in this film are misogynists who are quick to violence. So while it's great to see Paul attempting to tap into his more sensitive side, there's a nagging feeling that this is headed for heavily pointed climax. And indeed, Lessovitz has some important things to say.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Steven Kostanski
prd Stuart F Andrews, Shannon Hanmer, Steven Kostanski
with Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Matthew Ninaber, Adam Brooks, Alexis Hancey, Kristen MacCulloch, Roxine Plummer, Alex Chung, Scout Flint, Robert Homer, Steven Vlahos, Anna Tierney
release US 22.Jan.21,
Is it streaming?
A cheesy B-movie with a snappy sense of humour, this horror romp combines a kid-friendly premise with hyper-grisly nastiness. It's delightfully deranged, often laugh-out-loud hilarious as it veers between being a dark sci-fi thriller and a wacky family sitcom. Filmmaker Steven Konstanski revels in the cheap production values while pushing the limits with inventive touches. It's too sloppy to be a classic, but genre fans will love it.
While playing in the mud, Mimi (Hanna) and her brother Luke (Myre) find a strangely glowing stone. And later they discover that they have released a megalomaniacal intergalactic monster (Ninaber), whom Mimi can control because she possesses the stone. They name him Psycho Goreman, or PG for short, and introduce him to their friend Alasdair (Flint) as well as their horrified parents Greg and Susan (Brooks and Hancey). But a galactic cop Pandora (Plummer) is tracking PG down. The question is whether Mimi can ever really trust PG, because he continually promises to destroy her.
The action occasionally cuts to a council of arrogant alien creatures that had imprisoned PG and are now desperate to contain him again, sending Pandora to Earth to catch him. There's also a flashback to PG's personal back story. Each scene in the film plays out with an outrageous mix of practical effects, digital nuttiness, elaborate costumes and makeup, and some amusing puppetry. The eclectic approach is utterly bonkers, filling the screen with irreverent gags, gruesome surprises and some surprisingly warm emotions.
Unusually clever dialog allows each of the actors to have a lot of fun with his or her role. Hanna and Myre have enough sparky attitude to make their characters engaging. But it's the relentlessly surly PG who steals the show, with Ninaber's adept rubber-suited physicality and Vlahos' rumbly voice. His dialog is a mix of rambling nonsensical mythology, threats of violence and ridiculous punchlines. "I do not care for hunky boys," he growls when Mimi gives him a magazine. "Or do I?" And Brooks and Hancey have some great moments of their own.
Konstanski laces the script with deeper themes that add little kicks of meaning to the various interrelationships, from the growing camaraderie between the kids and PG to some astute gags about self-importance and misplaced machismo. There's also some well-aimed sentimentality that never gets sappy. This is a story about how power changes people, so even as we're having a lot of fun watching it, there are thoughtful things that get us properly involved in the craziness.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Stephanie Zari
scr Derek Ahonen
prd Dai Davison, Monika Kasprzak
with Sarah Roy, Tom Cullen, Jade Anouka, Anna Wilson-Jones, Isabelle Connolly, Daisy Mayer, Moyo Akande, Buckso Dhillon-Woolley, Angela Yeoh, Henry Douthwaite, Siobhan Athwal, Gemma Park
release UK 28.May.21
Is it streaming?
Adapted by Derek Ahonen from his play, this blackly comical horror is given a wonderfully cinematic zing by inventive director Stephanie Zari. It's a superb trip into an addled mind, mixing wry humour with big emotions that tap into a range of resonant issues, most notably exploring the connection between abuse and mental illness. And the filmmakers also stir in a sensitive romance and a beautiful drama about friendship.
On a darkly insinuating night, Catherine (Roy) seeks out her husband Dan (Cullen) in his office, and promptly stabs him in the head. She then calls her friend Anita (Anouka) to help calm her down and clean up the mess. They haven't seen each other in ages, so they revisit their lifelong friendship, circling around through a variety of events in childhood and adolescence that have shaped them. Meanwhile, Catherine is also remembering her offbeat first date with Dan and their growing affection for each other. But these recollections are tinged with terrifying undercurrents.
The title refers to Catherine's fictional childhood alter-ego, who transforms into a zebra to escape her father's abuse then kills and devours him. And she's stunned when Dan embraces her "wicked, beautiful stripes". The film is packed with witty details that both ground scenes in reality and expand on absurdly surreal elements. It's a bold mix that skilfully draws the audience into Catherine's somewhat blurred perspective, as Dan seems to keep coming back to life and various other figures engage with her as a teen (Connolly) or even younger (Mayer).
Roy brings remarkable alertness to Catherine, who obsessively accepts inconsistencies in the world around her. Her sparky personality seems fully aware even as she continually misses jokes. Cullen adds a lovely, slightly brittle wit to his scenes with her, making their relationship seriously charming. And Anouka's Anita has a hilarious wariness that cleverly reveals her unflinching support and profound love for Catherine. Side roles add strong textures, including Wilson-Jones as Catherine's seriously messy mother.
As the narrative progresses, the story expands and spirals, dropping enormous revelations about Catherine's past and present that shift the deeper meanings in profoundly moving ways. As things begin to come into sharper focus, the underlying issues become much more personal. It's not an easy film to watch, as the grisly violence sometimes feels flippant, and the approach to big topics is so multifaceted that it can be tricky to navigate a path through it. But perhaps that's the point, and it's what makes the film both unsettling and urgent.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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