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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 27.Jun.21

Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds   D’Artacán y los Tres Mosqueperros
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds
dir Toni Garcia
scr Doug Langdale
prd Javier Ibanez
voices Tomas Ayuso, Karina Matas Piper, Elisabeth Gray, Blair Holmes, Stephen Hughes, Julio Perillan, Robbie K Jones, Jeff Espinoza, Scott Cleverdon
release UK 25.Jun.21
21/Spain 1h24

Is it streaming?

athos, aramis, porthos and dogtanian
The 1980s TV cartoon gets a big-screen outing with this amusingly cheesy adventure based on the Alexandre Dumas classic, updated with 3D digital imagery. As with the series, this feature is produced in Spain, and there's plenty of scope for a witty pastiche, although neither the writing nor the animation are quite up to scratch. But as a silly romp, it's colourful enough to keep the kids entertained.
In 1625 young Dogtanian (Ayuso) hopes to join the respected Muskehounds in Paris, but he's wary of Cardinal Richelieu (Hughes) and his goon the Comte de Rochefort (Holmes), who framed and disgraced his father (Cleverdon). Challenging the top three Muskehounds -- fit Porthos (Hughes again), beefy Athos (Hughes yet again) and charmer Aramis (Perillan) -- he wins their respect. And he also befriends thieving rat Pip (Jones), falls for Juliette (Piper), and gets his new friends to help him stop a Richelieu's nefarious plan to spark war with England, which involves cat burglar Milady (Gray).
All of this is animated in a bright visual style with lots of wacky action hijinks. While the movie's attitude is continually cheeky, it's never particularly sharp. Punchlines never zing, leaving most of the visual and verbal gags to just peter out. And the animation itself has a cheap sheen to it, with plastic-looking rather than furry characters and some inexplicable settings. For example, there's a Wild West desert-scape between Paris and Calais, presumably because rendering a forest would be too pricey.

The filmmakers make up for this with lively characters. Dogtanian's ceaseless enthusiasm makes him a likeable hero, even if that's precisely what gets him into constant trouble. But the fact that everyone underestimates him makes us root for him even more. His three buddies are also amusing, with their silly obsessions. Milady's leather outfit makes her a witty Catwoman, while Richelieu is a marvellously sneery devil. And Pip offers a continual stream of random comic relief that's distracting if never very funny.

In other words, it's cute enough to whittle away the time. And it's never dull because the plot hews surprisingly closely to the source novel, which sometimes requires sudden bursts of plot explanation. Visually, the best moment is a 2D anime romantic cutaway that reminds us that there are far more satisfying styles of lower-budget animation than this rather simplistic computer-style imagery. Basically, the elements are here for a much better film than this, and it's more about taking a bolder approach to screenwriting than anything else.

cert u some themes, violence 22.Jun.21

Untitled Horror Movie
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Untitled Horror Movie
dir Nick Simon
scr Luke Baines, Nick Simon
prd Bronwyn Cornelius, Marina Stabile, Luke Baines, Nick Simon
with Luke Baines, Darren Barnet, Timothy Granaderos, Claire Holt, Katherine McNamara, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Aisha Tyler, Kal Penn, Lesly Kahn, Kevin Daniels, Sohm Kapila
release US/UK 15.Jun.21
21/US 1h27

Is it streaming?

raver-lampman, barnet, holt; granaderos, mcnamara, baines
Opening as a Blair Witch pastiche, this horror comedy quickly shifts into a pandemic-era gimmick playing out on video-chat screens. The playful approach is enjoyable, especially as the bright young cast pokes fun at both the genre and the industry. So even if the repetitive structure makes the story's momentum drag, filmmaker Nick Simon skilfully varies the imagery. Although the meta style means that it's entertaining rather than scary.
The six stars of a hit TV series think they're in a powerful negotiating position for next season. So they're shocked when the show is cancelled. Kip (Granaderos) proposes that they now have time to make his demon-possession movie. Alex (Raver-Lampman) insists on tightening the script, while hotties Max and Kelly (Barnet and McNamara) are eager to work. More reluctant are the arrogant Declan (Baines) and cynical Kelly (Holt). But they come on board and decide to film it on their own phones. Then as they recite the dialog, they inadvertently summon a malevolent spirit.
This is a witty exploration of the line between performance and reality, playfully forcing actors to grapple with their integrity and vanity. There are also questions about production ("How did you do that shadow thing?") and studio marketing. It's skilfully shot and edited to bring out the distinct personalities of these young people. Although the knowing approach undermines scenes that are supposed to be frightening, which leaves the film feeling vaguely overwrought and ridiculous.

Each lead has a lot of fun as a hungry actor playing a horror movie victim. The funniest scenes involve them reading each other for their performances, taking the mickey based on personal quirks and firing off improv-style zingers. Then as things continue, their interaction develops a darkly intense undercurrent, which makes it rather difficult to believe the spiralling nastiness. In comical side roles, Tyler, Penn and Kahn are hilarious as a producer, agent and acting coach, respectively.

Simon strains to make things freaky, wryly deploying a wide range of cliches, including a heavily leading musical score and some subtle effects. But there's always a sense that these are actors pretending to be haunted, with no real feeling that anything is at stake. This makes the loose narrative feel somewhat uneven as it uses a limited number of tricks over and over again, ultimately embracing the corny tropes that were originally being ridiculed. Still, it's put together sharply enough to showcase the talents of the cast and crew, which amusingly is the entire point.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 13.Jun.21

Vicious Fun  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Vicious Fun
dir Cody Calahan
scr James Villeneuve
prd Chad Archibald, Cody Calahan
with Evan Marsh, Amber Goldfarb, Ari Millen, David Koechner, Julian Richings, Robert Maillet, Sean Baek, Alexa Rose Steele, Mark Gibson, Kristopher Bowman, John Fray, Gord Rand
release US/UK 2.Jul.21
20/Canada 1h41

Is it streaming?

marsh and goldfarb
Colourfully playing with the horror genre, this film is skilfully made in a slick style that echoes period classics. With nutty characters and action largely confined to a single location, director Cody Calahan has fun keeping the audience off-balance with a lively series of situations and a constant drizzle of bonkers details. So even if much of this plays out as corny and cartoonish, it's an enjoyable pastiche.
In 1983 Minnesota, Joel (Marsh) is a film critic for a horror magazine, annoyed that most movies he sees are so predictable. So he's trying to write one himself, distracted by his crush on his hot flatmate Sarah (Steele). While stalking her cool-guy conquest Bob (Millen), Joel inadvertently stumbles into a secret support group for serial killers. Attempting to blend in, he poses as a murderer and gets to know the others, each of whom has a distinct skill-set. Then when he's rumbled, the group decides to hunt him down and kill him.
This collection of murderers is hilariously eclectic, with the smooth Bob, calm-headed leader Zachary (Koechner), efficiently brutal Carrie (Goldfarb), freakishly methodical Fritz (Richings), meathead thug Mike (Maillet) and ice-cool Hideo (Baek). Then as Joel joins forces with Carrie, his odyssey takes a series of insane twists and turns, fuelled by the escalating battle of wits between this gang of ruthless psychos. Along the way, the body count grows in ways that are inventive and extremely grisly, but always played with a wry smirk.

March is engagingly hapless as Joel, trying desperately to convince himself that he's not a dork. His bluster is amusing, never concealing his clumsiness. But he's so likeable that he manages to connect with each of the other characters in unexpected ways. And he surprises himself too. The murderous roles are all designed for scene-stealers, and each member of the ensemble is certainly up to the challenge. Stantouts are Goldfarb and Millen , who get bigger parts and can add a range of snappy textures.

Aside from the obvious gag of having an dopey film critic at the centre of the plot, there isn't much going on beneath the surface. That said, it's engaging to watch Joel discover something he might be better at than reviewing movies. And the continuous cinematic references are fun to spot. Since Calahan keeps the tone so ridiculous, nothing is ever remotely scary. But there are some great jokes along the way, including some gleefully cheesy one-liners and rather a lot of inventively nasty ways to die.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 18.Jun.21

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