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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 10.Sep.21

Come From Away  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5     MUST must see SEE
Come From Away
dir Christopher Ashley
scr David Hein, Irene Sankoff
prd Jennifer Todd, Bill Condon, Nick Meyer, Mark Gordon
with Jenn Colella, Joel Hatch, Astrid Van Wieren, Emily Walton, Petrina Bromley, De'Lon Grant, Paul Whitty, Caesar Samayoa, Tony LePage, Q Smith, Jim Walton, Sharon Wheatley
release US/UK 10.Sep.21
21/US eOne 1h46

Is it streaming?

Come From Away
Shot this year on a Broadway stage, Irene Sankoff and David Hein's hit 2017 musical arrives on-screen on the 20th anniversary of the events it depicts. The approach is strikingly humane, as vivid real-life people punctuate moments with both snappy humour and big emotions. Briskly paced, it's also an important depiction of how disparate people can connect meaningfully, peppering scenes with observations that burst with multifaceted thoughts and feelings.
In the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, everyone knows everyone and is getting on with their day when they hear reports of the 9/11 attacks, and 38 planes are diverted to Gander's historical refuelling airport. With limited hotel space, the townsfolk mobilise to take in 7,000 passengers (and 19 animals), almost doubling the population. Mayor Claude (Hatch) and cop Oz (Whitty) leap into action, teacher Beulah (Van Wieren) opens up the school, and rookie journalist Janice (Emily Walton) covers the story. And over five days, as passengers are invited into homes, they make lasting friendships.
Quick and snappy, the dialog is packed with telling details that capture the intensity of the global crisis and specifics of life in Gander, as well as a variety of riveting personal stories. It's inspiring to see how the residents step up in inventive ways, seeking translators and welcoming "plane people" from countries they've never heard of. They also give them clothing that transforms them outwardly as they struggle with how to fit in alongside these quirky islanders.

The skilled ensemble cast shifts between roles, playing both the hosts and the stranded interlopers while using details that keep everything clear. Certain people come into clearer focus to provide deeper significance and provoke audience involvement. Songs express complex inner feelings with a lovely kick of offhanded wit, which makes a large number of characters memorable as they cope with both enormous issues and private reactions. Along the way, relationships blossom and crumble, and an enduring sense of community is created.

While the tone is generally light and uplifting, there are dark angles throughout the story, including striking depictions of uncertainty, fear of the unknown and some scary bigotry. And there's also a vivid sense of how the mood of the entire world shifted on that day. It's challenging to see how these people find common ground, bonding across language and cultural barriers over families and religion. And way this unusual situation changed the perspectives of the people who lived through it is powerfully engaging, and often moving.

cert 12 themes, language 10.Sep.21

Iceland Is Best  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Iceland Is Best
dir-scr Max Newsom
prd Will Randall-Coath, Dankuro Shinma, Max Newsom
with Kristin Audur Sophusdottir, Tom Maden, Alfrun Laufeyjardottir, Atli Oskar Fjalarsson, Mikael Kaaber, Judd Nelson, Helena Mattsson, Tom Prior, Jasmin Dufa Pitt, Stefan Hallur Stefansson, Arnar Jonsson, Ragnheidur Steindorsdottir
release UK 10.Sep.21
20/UK 1h30

Is it streaming?

sophusdottir and maden
With a gentle sense of whimsy, this British-made Icelandic comedy meanders through a variety of themes as it explores friendship, ambition, romance and self-discovery. Writer-director Max Newsom keeps everything about the film soft-spoken, so it's amusing without being funny, set in picturesque locations with a likeable if enigmatic young cast. It's not easy to get a grip on this delicate, dreamlike little movie, but its moods are engaging.
Aspiring 17-year-old poet Sigga (Sophusdottir) decides she can't live in Iceland any longer, so she plans to move to California. Her three childhood friends (Fjalarsson, Kaaber and Laufeyjardottir) are upset and a bit jealous, but offer to drive her to the airport, calling themselves her guardian angels. En route, they pick up handsome American stranger Nikki (Maden), and Sigga also needs to make one last visit to favourite teacher Mr Sonquist (Nelson). Then Nikki throws Sigga a goodbye party, and since she's falling for him, she's startled to see him hanging out with Carla (Mattsson).
Packed with quirky details, the film's plot takes a circuitous path through a series of distractions and hitches that keep delaying Sigga's intended escape, from a broken leg to Nikki's friend Jack (Prior) casting Sigga in a film he's shooting. There are frequent conversations about the nature of poetry and love, even as the characters conceal their private feelings. This makes the central romance between Sigga and Nikki feel like it's little more than a hint of attraction. So it's clear that other things are weighing on Sigga's mind about her travel plans.

Indeed, the beautiful ensemble cast keeps their emotions inside, which makes the youthful characters more intriguing than sympathetic. The most emotionally expressive roles go to Sophusdottir as the startled-by-love Sigga, with Mattsson in an evocative smaller role as the yearning, still-wounded Carla. Each side character has a personal issue that makes him or her distinct, while several offbeat details add splashes of colour. But everyone remains muted, and their interaction is whispery.

The plot is so loose that it feels like it'll never get to a point. This prevents us from properly investing in the characters, so we're left to admire the scenery and small moments while waiting for something deliberate to happen. Newsom's poetic approach urges us to slow down and quietly take in the deeper things that are gurgling under the surface, most notably Sigga's inability to ignore how she feels about the charismatic Nikki. And both love and pain are what makes her feel alive.

cert 15 themes, language 7.Sep.21

Small Engine Repair  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Small Engine Repair
dir-scr John Pollono
prd Peter Abrams, Rick Rosenthal, Jon Bernthal, Noah Rothman
with John Pollono, Jon Bernthal, Shea Whigham, Spencer House, Jordana Spiro, Ciara Bravo, Jennifer Pollono, Joshua Bitton, Michael Redfield, Josh Helman, Ashlie Atkinson, Shannon Esper
release US 10.Sep.21
21/US 1h43

Is it streaming?

bernthal and wigham
Actor-filmmaker John Pollono adapts his own play for the screen. It's a deeply personal comedy-drama with a strong sense of local New England culture, and also a collage of scenes that knowingly explore the nature of masculinity and the empty ways men try to express it. Because of how the plot reveals itself, there's a nagging predictability about where it's headed, but Pollono has some surprises in store.
In Manchester, New Hampshire, mechanic Frank (Pollono) is a caring single dad to lively teen Crystal (Bravo), who has ambitions to get out of town. One day, Frank summons his chucklehead pals Terrance and Packie (Bernthal and Whigham) to his repair shop, and he has a mysterious plan involving the wealthy young Chad (House), who joins them for an evening of drinking and other substances. Then Crystal's lowlife mother Karen (Spiro) surprises Frank when she turns up. As events take some turns, all of them will need to get creative if they hope to survive.
Flickering around, the film includes frequent flashbacks as these three men share stories and relive their previous antics. Tensions and connections between the characters feel very real, revealing a range of nuance in their relationships, awkward bonds between parents and children and a remarkable sense of small-town community. Having helped Frank raise Crystal, Terrance and Packie are even more angry with Karen than Frank is. So as they all gather together, and the plot slowly comes into focus, it's deeply and rather darkly involving, and also provocative.

Performances are loose and real, with bracing moments of tightly wound emotion. So even if the playwright's hand can be felt in the dialog and situations, these are authentic people who have larger lives off-screen. They also come together in ways that hint at the long years they've known each other. The superb Pollono, Bernthal and Whigham find strong chemistry together as lifelong buddies, while House and Delgado have intense moments of their own as the story takes its harrowing turn. And bristling conflicts between older and younger characters are vivid.

Pollono works to expand the story beyond the play's tightly contained four characters, although the frequent fragmented cutaways don't really add much to the fine actors' storytelling. That said, the initial set-up sequences do provide strong texture to what comes later. So as the film shifts from an edgy comedy into a pitch-black thriller, it navigates the tonal switch adeptly by maintaining the emotional resonance, keeping us engaged even as things get seriously heightened.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Sep.21

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