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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 12.Oct.21
The Beta Test
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
prd Natalie Metzger, Matt Miller, Benjamin Wiessner
with Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe, Wilky Lau, Olivia Applegate, Jacqueline Doke, Lya Yanne, Jessie Barr, Bridge Stuart, Keith Powell, Jackie Michelle Johnson, Malin Barr
release UK Aug.21 eiff,
BERLIN FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
A pitch-black sense of humour infuses this offbeat horror thriller, which makes it far more unsettling than expected. Actor-filmmakers Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe play gleefully with perspectives, revealing internal workings of people who find themselves in some seriously squirm-inducing situations. It's an inventive look at the mystery we accept when we put ourselves online to engage with other people, and how engaging in-person can be so much scarier.
In a purple envelope, Hollywood agent Jordan (Cummings) receives an invitation to a secret, one-time-only sexual encounter with an anonymous admirer. Without telling his fiancee Caroline (Newcomb), he becomes obsessed with who it might be. So he goes along to the hotel rendezvous, where he and the woman both remain blindfolded. And afterwards he's unable to put it out of his mind. So he tells his best friend and colleague PJ (McCabe), and they begin investigating where the invitation originated. But this doesn't seem to be a case of blackmail, so what's happening here?
The film is shot and edited in a way that gets into Jordan's head, as he continually blurts out things he thinks about saying, and hears or sees things that are on his mind. Scenes are intercut with others in ways that imply internalised connections as well as personality details. And the story is punctuated with seemingly random scenes of people murdering their spouses in a fit of rage. The way all of this connects is chilling and darkly provocative as it touches on much broader issues of trust and self-control.
Cummings is a superbly energetic, intense, charismatic and more than a little out of control. His combination of confidence and fear is played to perfection, like a mind-boggling case of pre-wedding jitters. He's so single-minded that he basically ignores everyone around him, which means that most other characters deliberately remain slightly out of focus. Both Newcomb and McCabe have some strong scenes along the way as the only people who actually seem to care about him.
The way guilt and paranoia creep in to consume Jordan is as fascinating as it is terrifying. It's never quite clear why he becomes so determined to investigate who is running this anonymous hook-up system. When he finally finds answers, he's even more unnerved than he was before, both because of what this resoluteness says about him and the bigger possibilities that exist for people to abuse the public information that's readily available out there about all of us.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Philip Barantini
prd Hester Ruoff , Bart Ruspoli
scr Philip Barantini, James Cummings
with Stephen Graham, Jason Flemyng, Vinette Robinson, Ray Panthaki, Alice Feetham, Hannah Walters, Kieran Urquhart, Izuka Hoyle, Philip Hill-Pearson, Lourdes Faberes, Malachi Kirby, Stephen McMillan
release UK Oct.21 lff
Is it streaming?
Bravura filmmaking elevates this propulsive British drama, as personal issues engulf a group of characters over one fateful evening in a busy restaurant. Unfolding in real time as a single, continuous handheld take, it remains fast and busy all the way through, and frequently gets very intense. The collision of momentous plot lines in a small space feels somewhat overwrought, but the ace cast make it gripping.
Arriving late for work as usual, Chef Andy (Graham) finds an inspector nitpicking his team, just as the busy Friday night rush begins. His assistant Carly (Robinson) is holding down the fort but clashing with clueless manager Beth (Feetham), while lead cook Freeman (Panthaki) is at the end of his tether. And the customers tonight include celebrity chef Alexander (Flemyng), who brings a food critic as his guest. Each member of the staff has something going on personally that's distracting them from their job, and there are potentially serious problems at every turn.
Cinematographer Matthew Lewis' camerawork is terrific, using a single take to follow characters one by one to catch their sideplots, then returning to Andy before veering off in other directions. This paints a remarkably big picture both of the workings of a restaurant and also the collection of people with their own issues, bouncing off each other in a variety of unexpected ways. There are flashes of humour and flirtation throughout the evening, but things get increasingly weighty as the time passes, especially when clashes come to a head.
Graham delivers another fierce performance at the centre, playing Andy as a lively and smart guy who has let things slide around him and is perhaps now in real trouble. This adds shifting tension to each relationship he has, and the ensemble around him replies with equal levels of intensity and nerve. Standouts include Robinson and Panthaki, while Flemying goes over the top as the villainous rival. Yes, some moments are overplayed, with some crazed desperation and careless behaviour. But smaller moments are subtle and moving.
A range of themes churn under the surface, mainly circling around various loyalties and betrayals between colleagues. And the examination of the perils of living life on the edge is particularly vivid in quite a few characters. Still, the documentary filmmaking, combined with some melodramatic plot points, leaves the movie feeling more like a technical wonder with great performances than a properly involving movie. It's punchy and entertaining, but it doesn't leave us with much to ponder.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Sean Baker
scr Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
prd Sean Baker, Alex Coco, Samantha Quan, Alex Saks, Shih-Ching Tsou
with Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son, Brenda Deiss, Ethan Darbone, Judy Hill, Brittney Rodriguez, Parker Bigham, Sam EidsonVicky, Brandon Lott, Marlon Lambert, Brandy Kirl
release UK Oct.21 lff,
CANNES FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Pushing his loose, improvisational filmmaking style in a new direction, filmmaker Sean Baker combines comedy with a hint of a thriller for this engagingly unhinged exploration of masculinity and ambition. It helps that the lead character is such a likeable loser, because as he ricochets from one potential crisis to another, we find it eerily easy to identify with him. And the setting becomes another character in the story.
Arriving in his small Texas hometown with nothing to his name, Mikey (Rex) heads to the home of his estranged wife Lexi (Elrod) and her surly mother Lil (Deiss). They eventually allow him to stay, but only if he pays his way, so he contacts his old high school supplier (Hill) and begins selling pot again. Then he meets 17-year-old Strawberry (Son), who works in a donut shop and falls for his flirtatious banter. And he sees in her a ticket back to Los Angeles to relaunch his porn career with her by his side.
Mikey chats incessantly about everything, boasting about his award-winning adult performances. And each detail of his story that comes into focus adds new textures to his past with Lexi as well as what he is planning for Strawberry. The only other person who seems impressed by his bluster is younger neighbour Lonnie (Darbone), who remembers Mikey as a legend. And perhaps Mikey is unaware of how he's using everyone he meets to further his crazy ideas.
This sense of obliviousness is what makes Mikey oddly likeable. And Rex plays him as a bundle of energy, always in motion, charming everyone he meets with his open-hearted conversation. Even people who should know better can't resist his disarming chatter. And Rex creates strong connections with Elrod, Son and Darbone, who play their roles as if they're not acting at all. The dialog flows naturally between them, even when things get pointed. Or when the plot points click loudly into place.
The film is too long to sustain its meandering pace, mainly because the story structure leaves us impatient for the other shoes to fall into place. But each scene is hugely entertaining, and often laugh-out-loud hilarious, as we watch Mikey try to juggle so many balls at once. Baker is gifted at capturing the organic rhythms of community life and injecting electrical energy into vividly colourful set-pieces. And the film also carries a nice sting in its depiction of the American dream.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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