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

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr Peter Duncan
prd Denise Silvey
with Lucy-Jane Quinlan, Henry Roadnight, Peter Duncan, Adam Price, Sarah Moss, Ian Talbot, Sam Ebenezer, Miguel Angel, Nicola Blackman, Daisy English, Hannah Everest, Emily Galvin
release UK 10.Dec.21
21/UK 1h31

See also:
Jack and the Beanstalk (2020)

Watch it online
panto online

quinlan, duncan and price
Actor-filmmaker Peter Duncan as upped the ambition considerably for this delightful follow-up to 2020's filmed pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. This new production has superior production values, including interior sets and even a couple of horses. It features the same above-average cast of scene-stealing theatre veterans who bring the stage-style goofiness into real-world settings. And once again, the clever script and vivid characters make it thoroughly enjoyable.
The familiar fairy tale has been cleverly scrambled. Cinderella (Quinlan) lives with her father Baron Hardup (Talbot). Struggling financially, they're paid a visit by his late second wife's gold-digging daughters Billie Eyelash and Ariana Shande (Duncan and Price), who are conniving to win the hand of the handsome Prince (Evenezer) at his forthcoming ball. They bully Cinderella mercilessly, unaware of the fact that the Prince already has his eye on Cinderella. But her servant Buttons (Roadnight) also has a crush on her. And the Fairy Godmother (Moss) offers Cinderella some help on the big night.
With the Fairy Godmother as host, characters continually speak to-camera encouraging the viewer to boo, cheer, aah and have fun with the usual call-and-response antics. Children will love this, as it puts them right into the story along with the adorable kids playing woodland critters on-screen. Grown-ups will be amused by the sly gags woven throughout the dialog, including innuendo and witty nods to politics and pop culture. And along the way, superb musical numbers give the adept cast a chance to show off their talents.

Each character bristles with personality, with Quinlan's Cinderella as a likeably plucky lead who doesn't need a man to define her, and is a bit annoyed by the attention. Roadnight is the show's heart as the endearing Buttons, an adorably lovelorn guy in need of a hug. Ebenezer has a great time camping up the posh Prince ("I may be charming, but I'm not necessarily sincere") and indulging in some identity-swap silliness with the lively Angel's cobbler. And of course Duncan and Price get the riotous scene-chewing roles as the outrageously lurid stepsisters.

Scenes are awash in bright hues, with clever settings and lots of surreal nuttiness (like a random circus troupe performing in a forest). While the whole thing is perhaps too ridiculous to properly engage with, it will keep audiences giggling, especially in a cinema filled with children. And for all of its wackiness and deliberately hand-made effects work, this is a surprisingly sophisticated independent film that nicely captures the joys of this distinctly British tradition. But you do need to set your cynicism aside.

cert u themes, innuendo 4.Dec.21

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Samuel Kay Forrest
prd Samuel Kay Forrest, Alexander Forrest
with Samuel Kay Forrest, Marie Celine Yildirim, Evelijn van Brandenberg, Judy LaDivina, Helmut Wossner, Filip Sut Rutkowski, Ansje van Brandenberg, Beatrix Michelet, Enzo de Liguoro, Ian Loughran, Jurjen van Nes, Javier Taboada
release Ger 27.Aug.20,
US 24.Dec.21
20/Germany 1h29

Is it streaming?

yildrim and forrest
Making terrific use of real locations, this film combines documentary elements with an autobiographical cinematic essay to take on warped societal values. Irish actor-filmmaker Samuel Kay Forrest has a lot to say, although the underdeveloped script feels preachy, while the ambitious writing and directing reveal a lack of experience. That said, the film adeptly captures the rhythms of young people who refuse to be put into a box.
Living in Berlin, Angus (Forrest) feels like an outcast, judged by his family for his anarchic activism against right-wing oppression. He's happy with his girlfriend Angie (Yildrim), but worries about whether she can accept everything about him, including gnawing questions about gender and sexuality. Angus' life consists mainly of street protests and hard-partying nightclubs, plus the occasional night in a jail cell for graffiti vandalism. And when he finally forces an honest conversation with Angie, it doesn't go very well. But perhaps it's better to air the truth than to keep it hidden away.
A series of swirly sequences reveal the narrative, punctuated by a countdown of hours to something momentous (or not). Instead of expressing thoughts and ideas through character interaction, a persistent voiceover states Angus' thoughts in preachy rants, navel-gazing monologues or naive travelogue-style observations. And most of his conversations with others are just as pointed. More intriguing is how Angus' mind goes in circles, loving how people can be themselves in Berlin, but unsure who he is. Visually, the film's eye-catching styles create an impressive collage of life outside the mainstream.

Forrest has a strong presence as the intriguingly vulnerable Angus, who simply can't escape the idea that his gender fluidity is somehow transgressive. He refers to his relationship with Angie as polyamorous, but is afraid that she will judge him if he lets his true inner self out. Yildirim gets a chance to add some personality to the role, even if she remains somewhat out of focus. When they finally confront each other, the scene has an earthy authenticity, shot in extended takes.

The film is packed with mini-sermons, many of which will seem blindingly obvious to anyone who has lived at all. But some of these also strike a nerve, such as the idea that people don't understand us because we're sending out the wrong messages. With some more complexity in the writing and editing to add some clarity and even provocations to the meandering story, these kinds of observations might have carried a strong kick.

cert 15 themes, language, drugs, sexuality 21.Dec.21

I Am Syd Stone  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
I Am Syd Stone
dir-scr Denis Theriault
prd Gharrett Patrick Paon
with Travis Nelson, Benjamin Charles Watson, Daiva Johnston, Francine Deschepper, Kevin Kincaid, Cameron Arason, Shelley Thompson, Gharrett Patrick Paon, Callum Dunphy, Nicole Steeves, Ursula Calder, Denis Theriault
release US 7.Dec.21
20/Canada 1h21

See also the short:
I Am Syd Stone (2014)

Is it streaming?

nelson and watson
Relaxed storytelling helps this low-key film connect with the audience. Writer-director Denis Theriault takes on big themes along the way, but the focus remains tightly on the thoughts and feelings of central characters. Skilfully shot and edited, and strongly underplayed by a talented cast, the story explores the impact of closeted sexuality within the film industry and the emotional complexity of living your true life in the public eye.
While shooting a film in a small town, famous actor Syd (Nelson) is living in an anonymous hotel when he meets lawyer Matt (Watson) in the hotel bar. Both are feeling lonely, and they strike up a conversation. Working on a murder case, Matt knows nothing about pop culture, so has never heard of Syd, which of course offers Syd a chance to get to know him without preconceptions. But he freaks out at the thought of anyone finding out that he's gay. So things get complicated when his girlfriend Rachel (Johnston) turns up.
Filmmaker Theriault appears as the young Syd in real home movies that punctuate the story, a touch that offers a deeper glimpse into the character, especially when Syd begins to think about his estranged father. Interaction feels loose and realistic between a wide range of characters, adding layers of comedy and very dark drama. And the more intimate moments between Syd and Matt and a proper zing of attraction, strikingly sexy without being explicit. There's a lovely depth to the script, layering in resonant subtext and themes.

Nelson nicely conveys Syd's internal struggle, including his pungent case of self-loathing, which is much more compelling than the more simplistic addition of a drinking problem. With improv-style conversations, there's strong on-screen chemistry between Nelson and Watson, who gives Matt an open-handed honesty that has an extra kick as he provokes Syd to think about his next step. Scenes with Johnston's Rachel bristle with a mix of affection and strikingly authentic unspoken tensions. And side characters add their own strong moments along the way.

While the plot grapples with some big topics, the film remains remarkably internalised, constantly circling around issues of appearance and expectation, augmented by scenes involving Syd's 8-year-old costar (Arason), who is never good enough for his pushy father (Kincaid). Syd's journey through this narrative is quietly involving, forcing him to grapple with things about himself that he doesn't want to accept. So when he is pushed into a corner, it's fascinating to see his reaction, because the film becomes both moving and important.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 2.Dec.21

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