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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 29.Aug.21
Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Jose Zelada, Richard Claus
scr Brian Cleveland, Jason Cleveland, Larry Wilson, Richard Claus
prd Cesar Zelada, Sergio Zelada, Jose Zelada, Richard Claus
voices Lola Raie, Naomi Serrano, Dino Andrade, Joe Hernandez, Rene Mujica, Thom Hoffman, Yeni Alvarez, Bernardo De Paula, Alejandra Gollas, Susana Ballesteros, Rico Sola, Gerardo Prat
release UK 27.Aug.21
Is it streaming?
Skilfully animated to a high standard, this rainforest adventure looks gorgeous enough to hold the attention. Alas, the script isn't as textured as the imagery, relying on derivative comical elements and a simplistic plot. Made by Peruvian and Dutch filmmakers, the story at least has a strong female sensibility, centred on the friendship between two young women struggling against a masculine culture to make their world a better place.
In a jungle village, orphaned teen Ainbo (Raie) wants to help her princess best friend Zumi (Serrano) save their community, which is threatened by a failing eco-system and aggressive developers. Then she meets her talking spirit guide animals, cheeky armadillo Dillo (Andrade) and dopey tapir Vaca (Hernandez), leading to a falling out with Zumi, a situation manipulated by the conniving hunk Atok (Mujica). So Ainbo sets off to break the curse and learn who she really is. Meanwhile, Atok makes contact with a white man (Hoffman), who offers medicine in exchange for Zumi's gold.
Ainbo's sometimes random rainforest adventures with her guides look terrific, even if the animals are a bit too adorable (Dillo and Vaca are essentially Timon and Pumbaa without the catchy song). The good and bad guys are always very clear, although characters often fail to see who's whom, which leads them to switch sides abruptly. More involving is the way the script embraces traditional magical realism, leading to some whizzy effects work that livens up some dark turns in the plot.
The relative sizes of the characters are all over the place: Ainbo is dwarfed by Dillo and Vaca, while legendary characters are King Kong-sized. But there's a vivid sense of how strength of character triumphs over a fearsome enemy. So even when the animation goes over-the-top in the climactic confrontation, a sense of resilience and passion undergirds the action. And as Ainbo discovers her past, the way she has to deal with things seems more than a little scarring.
The central conflict is between peaceful nature and violent technology, as this plucky girl faces a mammoth scorpion-shaped bulldozer. Adding a localised spin, the script blames the nastiness on the evil inside, rather than the villain himself. In this sense, the film offers hope that the grip of greed can be conquered, and that even death can't separate people who love each other. So even if the story feels underdeveloped, at least the movie is brisk and never sentimental.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Tim Fehlbaum
scr Tim Fehlbaum, Mariko Minoguchi
prd Thomas Wobke, Philipp Trauer, Ruth Waldburger, Tim Fehlbaum
with Nora Arnezeder, Iain Glen, Sarah-Sofie Boussnina, Sope Dirisu, Sebastian Roche, Joel Basman, Eden Gough, Kotti Yun, Bella Bading, Cloe Heinrich, Nicola Perot, Hong Indira Rieck
release Ger/US 27.Aug.21
21/Germany Saban 1h44
BERLIN FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
A sense of urgency underpins this sci-fi drama, as filmmaker Tim Fehlbaum cleverly uses locations to evoke a Mad Max in Waterworld vibe. It's strikingly well shot, creating a vivid atmosphere as a grim drama about humanity unfolds in deliberately drab settings. Because the characters and themes remain understated, the film encourages us to lean into it, even if the approach is too aloof to resonate very deeply.
Two generations after the uninhabitable Earth's ruling elite escaped to a new planet, humans have become infertile. So a crew returns to Earth establish a new colony, crash-landing on muddy ground with six hours before the tide returns. Then Blake (Arnezeder) and her injured colleague Tucker (Dirisu) are surprised and captured by ragtag group of people. Communication is difficult, and violence with other gangs is rife. But Blake discovers that Narvik (Boussnina) speaks some English, and she later finds Gibson (Glen), a survivor from an earlier mission who has a plan to repopulate the planet.
Swirly flashbacks reveal that since childhood Blake has been dedicated to the mantra, doing everything "for the many". So she tenaciously carries on her mission against the odds while hoping to find her father (Roche), who disappeared on a mission 15 years ago. The film hones in on Blake's specific odyssey, which is relentless as it moves from one precarious situation to the next in places that are fascinating, from the tidal plain to a graveyard of rusted-out cargo ships. And revelations continually refocus her actions in new directions.
Performances are low-key and muted, which keeps the emotions gurgling far under the surface. Arnezeder gives Blake a striking intelligence, driven by curiosity and a healthy wariness of everyone she meets. This includes Glen's Gibson, a rational man who's trying to civilise locals he still sees as mere barbarians. Glen maintains some nuance even as his monstrous side emerges, turning him into a rather thankless villain. And Boussina is excellent in a complex, somewhat underused role as a woman trying to protect her daughter (Bading).
There are several genuinely disturbing scenes that draw harrowing parallels with history, from European imperialism to the Inquisition to the Holocaust. But the writing and direction are only deploying these things to hint at larger themes about the nature of humanity, touching on thorny issues for effect rather than actually grappling with them. These ideas and the film's ambience hold the attention, even if it never quite gets under the skin.
When the Screaming Starts
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Conor Boru
scr Ed Hartland, Conor Boru
prd Conor Boru, Jared Rogers, Ed Hartland, Dom Lenoir
with Ed Hartland, Jared Rogers, Kaitlin Reynell, Octavia Gilmore, Kave Niku, Yasen Atour, Ronja Haugholt, Var Haugholt, Rob Tofield, Stuart Vincent, Daniel Collard, Elliot Thomas
release UK Aug.21 frf
Is it streaming?
Dryly hilarious, this British horror comedy is packed with deadpan asides and nutty revelations in the mock-doc style of What We Do in the Shadows. Its entertainingly silly tone jars against the pitch-black premise, as whiplash shifts in tone and some obvious plotting undermine the clever premise. And without much character nuance, the mix of blood-thirsty murder with goofy jokes adds an awkwardness to the mindless fun.
Documentarian Norman (Rogers) has found the perfect subject for his next film: aspiring serial killer Aidan (Hartland), who works as a cinema usher and whose photographer girlfriend Claire (Reynell) is fascinated by death. She helps him perfect his killer look, while he selects a former bandmate (Collard) as his first victim. When this doesn't go as planned, Aidan and Claire decide to recruit a Manson-style family and begin training exercises. Eventually they're ready to head out on their first murderous mission, with Norman's crew along to capture it. But there's trouble brewing within Aidan's crew.
After opening with news reports of 14 people killed at a dinner party, the story shifts into a handheld-camera satirical documentary in which the filmmaker is front and centre, and his crew is never seen (some camerawork is suspiciously improbable). The improv-style dialog is amusingly ridiculous, and it touches a few nerves as it lampoons social attitudes and class issues. But there's never much to the movie beyond the gleefully escalating morbid craziness. And the characters' matter-of-fact reactions never quite bridge the gap between violence and comedy.
Performances are comically heightened to bring out more ludicrous aspects of each character, which means that few of them are able to remain likeable. Rogers maintains a haplessly misplaced curiosity as a filmmaker who doesn't know where to draw a line, while Hartland's Aidan is even more absurdly naive, driven by Reynell's amusingly glowering Claire. And each family member brings his or her own zaniness: scary-eyed Amy (Gilmore), perplexed yoga practitioner Masoud (Niku), over-enthusiastic Jack (Atour) and creepy twins Veronika and Viktoria (Ronja and Var Haugholt).
As a pandering journalist notes, "When it comes to murder, someone always ends up getting killed." Indeed, the narrative includes some grisly sequences that turn the comedy on its head with genuinely nasty violence. There are angles to the story that might have made it more engaging, including Norman's complicity and Aidan's regret that his secret urges are turning into a fully fledged bloodbath. But the characters remain one-note all the way through.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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