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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 22.Aug.21

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Brielle Brilliant
prd Bridget Botchway, Judy Febles
with Tim Kinsella, Allex Jording, Caleb Cabrera, Anna Zhang, Amy Blackburn, Siarra Wilson, Michael Bricker, Xiomara Bernard, Max Lipchitz, Susan O'Doherty, Bridget Botchway, Erin White
release US Mar.21 piff
21/US 1h18


Is it streaming?

cabrera and jording
Drenched in New Mexico sunshine, this offbeat drama takes a refreshingly open-handed approach that's easy to engage with. With their first feature, writer-director Brielle Brilliant takes a premise that could easily seem a bit creepy and makes it something affirming and almost inspirational in the way it celebrates the wonderful variety in human expression. It's a disarmingly gentle film that challenges us without even a moment of preachiness.
Trying to sort out his personal issues, Keith (Kinsella) joins an experimental confrontational therapy group. Meanwhile, his nonbinary teen Tavi (Jording) is pursuing a friendship with older nice-guy ex-con Julian (Cabrera). He's is touched by Tavi's attention because most people dismissively choose to ignore him, which is a serious problem as he seeks work. Tavi is an imaginative free-thinker, and the nervous Keith is doing his best as a single dad. He may be rightly taken aback by Tavi's friendship with Julian, but trusts and supports his child even when others don't get it.
Conversations are loose and tentative, mixing smalltalk with revealing observations. Even if it looks transgressive from the outside, the connection between Tavi and Julian is earthy and cute, echoing the soulful commonality between marginalised people. This contrasts with more awkward conversations between father and child, two people who love but don't particularly understand each other. Their open, honest conversations are beautifully written and played, particularly their simultaneous mealtime prayers. And there's further insight through the costumes and some wonderful settings.

Adding to the film's quirky tone, the performances have an expert sense of timing, while never tipping over into comedy. The actors are utterly transparent, which makes them both intriguing and likeable, even if they're all a mess. Kinsella's scruffy, hapless Keith seems almost heroic, simply by continually revealing his good heart. He's also rather sweetly naive, misreading a group member (Zhang) who relentlessly flirts with him. Cabrera is similarly genuine as the expressive, curious Julian. And at the centre, the charismatic Jording's Tavi is a striking original who marches to their own rhythms.

This is a clever depiction of the ways people connect with each other, both embracing commonalities and reaching across differences. Brilliant's approach is never pushy, setting up scenes in ways that could go anywhere, then defying expectations with artfully inventive twists and subtle nuances that continually catch us off guard. So instead of lecturing the audience about important issues that are gurgling up into the story, the film helps us understand these idiosyncratic people. And realise that we're more like them than we knew.

cert 15 themes, language 20.Aug.21

Mosquito State  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
Mosquito State
dir Filip Jan Rymsza
scr Filip Jan Rymsza, Mario Zermeno
prd Filip Jan Rymsza, Wlodzimierz Niderhaus, Alyssa Swanzey
with Beau Knapp, Charlotte Vega, Jack Kesy, Olivier Martinez, Audrey Wasilewski, Daisy Bishop, Dominika Kachlik, Max Kubiak, Seetharaman Krishna, Hai Hung Dinh, Wojciech Bocianowski, Krystin Goodwin
release Pol Nov.20 nhff,
US/UK 26.Aug.21
20/Poland 1h41


Is it streaming?

For this fable about greed, Polish filmmaker Filip Jan Rymsza takes an artfully stylised approach that churns and growls as the story unfolds. While set in the past, the lighting and sets give it a futuristic sci-fi ambience. There's quite a bit going on around the edges, but Rymsza's approach to horror is startlingly personal, even if everything is simply far too mannered to resonate in a meaningful way.
In 2007 New York, Richard (Knapp) is a rising-star investment analyst working for flashy Wall Street tycoon Edward (Martinez). When he takes the brainy Lea (Vega) back to his vast, austere Manhattan penthouse, she's impressed with the view but perplexed by his quirky behaviour. Meanwhile, he's being taunted by a mosquito, clueless that there's a whole population of them brewing in his home. Then in the office, he notices that his coworker Beau (Kesy) is dangerously messing with his investment algorithm, but Edward is making too much money to worry about it.
The film opens with a mosquito's eye sequence that sets the offbeat tone, which never lightens. Each scene is played with such intensity that even comical touches feel dark and twisted. The story's period is echoed on televisions in the background, with presidential candidate debates and other news that reminds us of the impending financial crash. Through all of this, Richard is only interested in patterns, both in money and in the swarm of mosquitos that he inexplicably encourages to take over his life.

With his stiff, deliberate movements, Knapp plays Richard as such a awkward, obsessive savant that he's difficult to like. So it seems like Lena's attraction must be purely financial, while his colleagues both goad and placate him. Because the film is so centred in on him, the storms brewing both inside and around him feel apocalyptic, especially as his bad reactions to the bug bites transform him physically. Richard is unable to make a real connection with Lena, or with anyone in his office, but Knapp manages to give him a soul.

While the script plays around with the serious disaster of unfettered capitalism, the way the film locks tightly around Richard and his Quasimodo-style isolation in his tower is properly unnerving. It's far too controlled and fantastical to be either meaningful or scary, but there are moments of disturbing beauty and unexpected emotional touches along the way. All of which leaves the film feeling sinister but also indulgently perplexing.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 22.Aug.21

Potato Dreams of America  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Potato Dreams of America
dir-scr Wes Hurley
prd Mischa Jakupcak, Wes Hurley
with Tyler Bocock, Marya Sea Kaminski, Sera Barbieri, Hersh Powers, Dan Lauria, Lea DeLaria, Jonathan Bennett, Sophia Mitri Schloss, James Grixoni, Lady Rizo, Alycia Delmore, Lauren Tewes
release US 24.Jun.22,
UK 22.Aug.22
21/US 1h35


See also:
Little Potato (2017)

Is it streaming?

bocock, kaminski and lauria
Heavily stylised and hugely imaginative, this coming-of-age story unfolds with offbeat insight and witty observations. Expanding on his 2017 short doc Little Potato, writer-director Wes Hurley depicts his own experiences with cleverly inventive imagery, using a mix of stage-like sets and real-world locations. And the sparky characters are full of life, adding to the film's brisk pace and warm-hearted approach to topics that shouldn't actually be controversial at all.
As the Soviet Union collapses, movie-loving pre-teen Potato (Powers) is introduced to Jesus Christ (Bennett), fuelling his already intense obsession with America. Then his mother Lena (Barbieri) becomes a mail-order bride, moving with Potato to Seattle to marry ultra-conservative John (Lauria). As the years pass, Potato (now Bocock) makes a best friend in his classmate Mandy (Schloss), while trained doctor Lena (now Kaminski) finds a job and friends in a fast-food outlet. There are also surprises, bumps and triumphs as this family struggles to express themselves honestly to each other.
Fast and focussed, the film races between key moments along Potato's journey, catching deeper themes along the way. Hurley knowingly depicts young Potato as he first suspects his sexuality in profoundly homophobic Russia, knowing that his yearnings need to be kept secret. So he's left to discover sex on his own, in movies. Years later when he finally tells his mother, she's delighted: "You think this is a problem?" she laughs. "Everyone is a little bit gay!" But she also knows they can't tell the harshly right-wing John, because he'd cancel their visas.

While much of the film is lighthearted, the darker moments allow the actors to deepen the characters significantly, which makes each of them compelling and engaging. Bocock gives Potato a hugely likeable presence, from confused teen to happily promiscuous young filmmaker. His interaction with his family and friends is beautifully played, and the montage of lovers is terrific, much sexier than comedies usually dare to get. Kaminski and Lauria are also excellent in roles that deepen in complexity as the story takes various turns.

With its broad life-spanning narrative, the film encompasses several themes and issues. And it refreshingly never pushes any of its more provocative points beyond stressing the importance of love and understanding. Hurley has created a wonderfully textured look at his own life and the people around him, tapping into feelings pretty much anyone can identify with. And perhaps the most significant observation is that children often know what's natural and right more clearly than grown-ups do.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 19.Aug.21

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