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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 18.Aug.21

The Land of Owls  
Review by Rich Cline | .5/5  
The Land of Owls
dir-scr Patrick Letterii
prd Christopher Letterii, Brian Dekker, Randa Dekker
with Ronald Peet, Ricardo Davila, David Rysdahl, Emma Duncan, Jasmin Walker, Blake DeLong, Emma Lahti, Erica Lutz, Richard Axtell, Leonard Piorkowski, Kathleen Goff, Jeannie Gratta
release US 17.Aug.21
21/US 1h19

Is it streaming?

peet and davila
There's a relaxed and almost hushed quality to this insightful, engaging drama, which is strikingly well shot in a beautiful location. Writer-director Patrick Letterii knowingly captures how difficult it is to talk about relationship issues, adeptly played by actors who offer open-hearted performances that are grounded in earthy life. This helps keep scenes involving and intriguing even when they get over-earnest or the pace slows almost to a stop.
At a retreat centre in the Catskills, two Brooklyn couples are working on their relationships, led through a series of activities by Nia (Walker). Chord and Jean (Peet and Davila) are seeking security and understanding, while Theo and Julia (Rysdahl and Duncan) need to define and repair their connection. Each has a distinct reaction to these exercises, and they also strike up friendships with Nia's assistant Paul (DeLong) and long-time resident Florence (Lahti), who provide surprising enlightenment of their own. And of course the real truth is that each person is on an individual journey.
Most scenes revolve around Nia's piercing therapeutic activities, from physical motion outdoors to incisive examination in group sessions, plus a colourful disco. And as characters meet one-on-one in various settings, their conversations spiral through thoughts and feelings, revealing things they have and hope for, and also what they know is missing. As this progresses, it becomes clear that there are much deeper issues in each relationship that need to be dealt with, and that some characters will be more successful at this than others.

Each actor skilfully layers individual personalities into connections with their partners, revealing passions and insecurities, nervous energy and strong emotional bonds. These are openly emotive performances, as Peet, Davila, Rysdahl and Duncan play people who are trying to express themselves, both wanting to be a better partner and wanting more in return. But is also becomes clear that they may be running from themselves. Meanwhile, Walker's Nia hovers around them as a sensitive provocateur.

Because of the story structure, the film feels strongly meditative, repeatedly pulling underlying themes into the spotlight as each character circles around the others, opening up in unexpected ways. Leterii is tapping in to the deep longing everyone has to be loved and wanted, and how this is complicated by our perhaps warped image of who we are. So while the low-key, pointed approach sometimes feels pretentious, this is a complex, often haunting portrait of how magical it is that people get together at all. And how much work it takes to stay together.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 15.Aug.21

Moon Bound
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
dir Ali Samadi Ahadi
scr Arne Nolting, Ali Samadi Ahadi
prd Frank Geiger, Ali Samadi Ahadi, Mohammad Farokhmanesh, Armin Hofmann
voices Aleks Le, Lilian Gartner, Howard Nightingall, Raphael van Bargen, Drew Sarich, Cindy Robinson, Mellisa Mabei, Elisabeth Kanettis, Barbara Spitz, Michael Smulik, Margarethe Tiesl, Dennis Kozeluh
release UK 6.Aug.21
21/Germany 1h25

Is it streaming?

peter and sandman
With brightly eye-catching animation, this German-made adventure is eye-catching enough to just about hold the interest even though the story is a tangled mess of random plot points and over-complicated mythology. And the randomness of the story's conflicts makes it impossible to engage on any meaningful level. Young children entertained by noisy silliness may enjoy it, but anyone in need of a coherent narrative should be warned.
Teen Peter (Le) is sick of his bratty little sister Anne (Gartner), who claims to be able to talk to critters. Indeed, she's become friends with the five-legged beetle Zoomzeman (Nightingall), who needs animal-loving humans to travel to the moon to retrieve his wife, who was inadvertently banished there by the ditsy Nightfairy (Robinson). When Anne runs away, Peter follows her into space, where he meets the Sandman (van Bargen) and embarks on a crazy odyssey to rescue Anne and Mrs Zoomzeman (Spitz) and thwart the Moonman (Sarich) and his inexplicable nefarious plan.
The convoluted back-story plays out in a beautifully rendered 2D bug's eye flashback as monstrous men spark all of this insanity by chopping down trees that house a variety of creatures. From here script begins to pile on details, including legends of ancient spirits and kingdoms, a gang of harmonic shooting stars, a sleigh pulled by butterflies and a snarling baddie who has a team of vicious moon poodles. An epic race competition is colourfully designed, but like most of the set-pieces has little context to add suspense, interest or humour.

Visually, the movie is packed with terrific touches, even if many of the best elements are borrowed from classics like The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Toy Story and Minions. So it's frustrating that the enormous barrage of characters have little nuance. With cool textures of hair, clouds and steel, they look amazing but never have much more than one personality trait each. This, combined with the jarringly over-complicated plot, makes it difficult for the adequate voice cast to being them to life.

The script namechecks a variety of themes, including bullying and teamwork, while delivering a rather standard message about how siblings should look out for each other. Even more interesting is the idea that the wonder of nature is something worth preserving. But the writing and direction rush past all of this in an attempt to keep up with the frantically overstuffed premise, missing the chance to find something deeper that might actually catch the imagination.

cert pg themes, violence 4.Aug.21

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir Benh Zeitlin
scr Benh Zeitlin, Eliza Zeitlin
prd Becky Glupczynski, Dan Janvey, Paul Mezey, Josh Penn
with Devin France, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin, Ahmad Cage, Krzysztof Meyn, Romyri Ross, Lowell Landes, Kevin Pugh, Shay Walker, Pam Harper, Cleopatra King Welch
release US 28.Feb.20,
UK 13.Aug.21
20/US Searchlight 1h51


Is it streaming?

France with Gavin and Gage Naquin
An astonishing riff on Peter Pan, this film is both earthy and dreamy at the same time, capturing the mixed emotions that come with the realisation that you're growing up. As with Beasts of the Southern Wild, director Benh Zeitlin makes this a sensual, visceral experience, transforming gorgeous settings into a thrilling fantasy world. Yet while there are genuinely joyful and harrowing moments, the story is loose and awkward.
In a bustling Louisiana town, imaginative young Wendy (France) spins her own stories about boys who who have gone missing, assuming they're having wild adventures. Her hilariously feisty twin brothers Douglas and James (Gage and Gavin Naquin) beg their mother (Walker) to tell them stories. And one night, all three kids run away, reaching an island where they find Peter (Mack), who hasn't aged since he left. But this place isn't as carefree as it seems, and soon the kids are fighting for their lives against a wearily menacing hook-handed captain (Pugh).
Alongside spectacular cinematography by Sturla Brandth Grovlen, Zeitlin fills the screen with raucous energy, as characters ricochet off each other and their environment. It's easy to understand Wendy's deep yearning to hold on to the excitement of childhood. Her odyssey is a string of heart-stopping experiences, from an exhilarating encounter with an enormous glowing fish to a terrifying event on a sinking boat to the freaky discovery that some people do indeed age on this island.

The young actors are encouraged to run wild, relishing their childish impulses alongside snippets of dialog and sometimes pushy plot points. Zeitlin crafts the footage to create snappy characters, honing in on the remarkable France, who oozes charisma and intelligence and puts her entire physicality into the role. The way she takes on a tired, ageing community is lovely. And the actors around her, both young and old, deliver equally singular performances, adding textures that ripple through Wendy's journey.

Zeitlin gives the imagery a scrappy Gilliam-style kick, from the eye-catching fantastical elements to the dusty bleakness of the island's squalid old-folks' community. Meanwhile, the plot feels stretched longer than the film's style can support, leading to an oddly drawn-out final act (followed by a lovely coda). Still, even the most action-oriented scenes grapple with a range of positive and negative sides of leaving childhood behind. So Wendy's steely determination to hold onto her youth is both moving and inspiring. "You can't lose hope," she says. "That's what's making you old."

cert 12 themes, language, violence 10.Aug.21

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