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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 8.Jun.21

The Carnivores  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Carnivores
dir Caleb Michael Johnson
scr Caleb Michael Johnson, Jeff Bay Smith
prd Heather Johnson, Caleb Michael Johnson, Jeff Bay Smith
with Tallie Medel, Lindsay Burdge, Frank Mosley, Vincent James Prendergast, Jason Newman, Thomas Fernandes, Aiden Colquitt, Brooke Whipple, Doris Clark, Lorelei Johnson, Aaron Johnson, Nicole Brending
release US 4.Jun.21
20/US 1h17

Is it streaming?

burdge and medel
Superbly well shot, this offbeat drama has a wonderfully observant quality to it, allowing characters and story elements to emerge organically amid scenes that are skilfully improvised. So while the movie is often silent, with mumbly dialog sometimes directed at no one in particular, filmmaker Caleb Johnson manages to unearth intriguing layers of meaning in moments that are quietly powerful, while adding touches that are provocatively disturbing.
In small-town Texas, Alice and Bret (Medel and Burdge) are worried that their mischievous dog Harvie is sick. And this seems eerily indicative of their subtly strained relationship and soul-crushing jobs. Then the veterinarian (Newman) tells Alice that Harvie's treatment is working, unexpected news that pushes her to take action as she attempts to get Bret's attention. Of course this backfires, and a series of adventures ensue as these women embark on separate odysseys that shake them to the core. The question is whether they can find a way back to each other.
The film looks amazing, overcoming a small budget with terrific camerawork (by Johnson and cinematographer Adam Minnick) and sharp editing (also by Johnson). The audience watches from askance angles that catch quirky details, so even inexplicable moments add knowing angles to the story. The title refers to Alice's obsession with meat, which she's hiding from the vegetarian Bret. While she begins to conflate this craving with both Harvie and her relationship, Bret is worried about the dog she's known longer than she's been with Alice.

Performances have an understated honesty to them, as Medel and Burdge never quite seem to be acting. Even if scenes are mainly seen through Alice's eyes, Bret has a strong presence. Both women have distinct perspectives on their connection, which colours their responses to various events, so the actors are able to play the roles as strikingly distinct people we can identify with. And their tender moments are beautifully played. Side characters come and go, often in hilariously random-seeming scenes that offer sideways insights.

Exploring a strained relationship through the pet that two people share is extremely clever, allowing the film to reveal the different ways each person approaches their bond, and letting each character discover what's really important to her. So Alice's yearning is hugely sympathetic, and so is Bret's sense of desperation. Generous doses of absurdity keep the film from ever being predictable or dull, despite the slow-moving pace and hushed sensibility. And it builds to an remarkably moving epiphany.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Jun.21

Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt)  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Ellie and Abbie (and Ellie's Dead Aunt)
dir-scr Monica Zanetti
prd Mahveen Shahraki, Patrick James
with Sophie Hawkshaw, Zoe Terakes, Marta Dusseldorp, Julia Billington, Rachel House, Bridie Connell, Patrick James, Orya Golgowsky, Madeleine Tenney-Withington, Chiara Gizzi, Randall Hua, Melanie Bowers
release US Oct.20 oof,
Aus 19.Nov.20, UK 11.Jun.21
20/Australia 1h22
20/US 1h25

flare film fest

Is it streaming?

hawkshaw and terakes
With a brightly comical tone tinged with deranged Aussie wit, this feel-good teen romance features lively characters in a warmly engaging story. The script cleverly highlights generational changes from a time when people had to hide their sexuality to today's more openly accepting youth. Writer-director Monica Zanette has a astute, knowing take on these issues, and manages to add a fresh angle on many of the usual issues.
As the formal approaches and students couple up, Ellie (Hawkshaw) attempts to keep herself sane by repeating inspirational mantras. This helps her work up the nerve to come out to her mother Erica (Dusseldorp), although asking Abbie (Terakes) to the dance feels like a bigger challenge. Then the ghost of her late gay Aunt Tara (Billington) turns up to encourage her. For Ellie, befriending Abbie is no problem, but both girls find it difficult to make any kind of romantic move. And for Ellie, it might be easier to just pick a pointless fight.
With her over-involved advice and sardonic humour, Tara is hilariously squirm-inducing, and would be hugely embarrassing if anyone else could see her. But her emotional honesty makes her likeable, especially as she adds perspective to Ellie's family history. When it emerges, the truth about Tara's life and death is difficult for Ellie to accept, as is the connection between Tara and Erica's best friend Patty (House). So as Ellie begins to see who she is, and how she's connected to those around her, her coming-of-age takes on some lovely resonance.

Hawkshaw gives Ellie a fierce inner life as a moody teen who wants to be like everyone else, refusing to celebrate what makes her different. So she continually resists pressure from Tara, played with a superbly grounded chirpiness by Billington. By contrast, Terakes' Abbie is much more straight-talking, attracted to Ellie while never indulging either her reticence or her close-minded reactions. She also doesn't give up on her. And Dusseldorp and House add terrific textures to the narrative.

Alongside the goofiness, there are continual waves of involving emotion as each character confronts feelings that they've been pushing aside. As an activist in her day, Tara's rousing leadership expresses the concerns of a harshly marginalised community, which is something Ellie can't begin to imagine. That she's standing on her aunt's soldiers is overwhelmingly inspirational, especially in the juxtaposition of shifting public attitudes over the decades. And perhaps Ellie's biggest lesson is to see the world beyond her corny platitudes.

cert 15 themes, language 6.Jun.21

Introducing Jodea  
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
Introducing Jodea
dir JD Cohen
scr Chloe Traicos
prd Jeremy Lynn, Lou Pizarro
with Chloe Traicos, Jeff Coppage, Kent Hatch, Ryan Pratton, Yadira Pascault Orozco, Shasta Bell, Kayd Currier, Jakob Renken, Steven E Kimbrough, Tiffany Toney, Miles Faber, Monaye Moyes
release US 4.Jun.21
21/US 1h45

Is it streaming?

coppage and traicos
There's a decent idea at the centre of this movie-business comedy, but it's put together so clumsily that it struggles to hold the interest. Eye-catching photography of Los Angeles settings helps, but scenes are awkwardly staged and edited in a way that leaves holes in the story. And it would take a much more experienced cast to sell this underdeveloped script's improbabilities or bring these nutty characters to life.
In need of a career comeback, director Zac (Coppage) is making an action movie starring his diva wife Isabella (Orozco), who's having an affair with her leading man (Renken).Then Zac has a fender bender with scrappy wannabe Jodea (Traicos) and decides to offer her Isabella's role, determined to prove he can turn anyone into a star. And if he can coach her to deliver a performance within a week, his agent (Hatch) will get his first-pick actor Ethan (Currier) to star opposite her. Of course, the paparazzi and Hollywood power plays cause complications.
The film's first half consists of Zac giving Jodea acting lessons, which allows for zany fight training, lessons in trust and lots of dopey aphorisms ("Acting isn't acting, it's being"). Meanwhile, Jodea and her pompous writer friend Harold (Pratton) are trying to teach the ex-addict Zac to be a better person. None of this is remotely believable, but it keeps the story rolling along amiably enough. Oddly, the romantic-comedy elements never come to life, while the story's central point of conflict feels badly contrived.

Traicos has moments of authenticity mixed in with a lot of overly deliberate quirks that are mostly outwardly silly personality tics (climbing into her car through a window) rather than actual character traits. Coppage is more natural as the frazzled but charming Zac, although this makes him too likeable for someone no one wants to work with. The script's comedic moments defeat everyone on-screen, including director Cohen. So with virtually all of the romance left off-screen, there's very little to engage the audience.

Traicos' sweetly messy script feels like a first draft. But it weaves in serious issues, perhaps reflecting her personal experience facing ugly sexism in the industry. And there are some nicely understated scenes that explore the range of difficulties people face while trying to pursue a career in the movies, as well as the compromises that go with that. Annoyingly, most of these are delivered in little sermons, mainly by Jodea as she educates Zac in being a better person and, ironically, a more authentic filmmaker.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Jun.21

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