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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 28.Feb.21
Review by Rich Cline |
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This gentle, observant British drama depicts a series of decidedly un-gentle events. It's a clever film that knowingly skewers the expectations most people have about their lives, written with bracing honesty by Jeff Murphy and directed with with a mix of sensitivity and unflinching authenticity by Jamie Patterson. While the film maintains an engagingly light tone, its issues are darkly serious, played with raw intimacy by an excellent cast.
In Brighton, young Justine (Haddon) meets Rachel (Reid) in a bookshop. Over coffee they get to know each other, exchanging lively banter. And their connection blossoms into a romance that offers Justine hope for the future. But she's still hiding her troubled past, the fact that she's unemployed, addicted to alcohol and has to meet regularly with probation officer Leanne (Reese-Williams). Justine finds it difficult to open up about these and other things about herself, which is of course worrying for Rachel. The question is whether Justine can accept help before it's too late.
The film's opening sequence shows Justine in a perilous state before flashing back three months to her cute first encounter with Rachel. Scenes with Leanne bristle with sarcasm, while Justine's days out with lively pal Peach (Russell) are loose and funny. This combination of moods is smoothly traversed by Patterson, who carefully remind us that Justine has a caring support network that she isn't relying on. And as she deliberately destroys her life, it's sadly understandable that she's waiting for Rachel to give up on her like her mother (Dillon) did.
The actors to deliver wonderfully off-handed performances that allow character quirks to emerge slowly as the story progresses. Haddon and Reid make a fascinating couple, as Justine's open-faced worldview contrasts with Rachel's more wary humour. Their love story is full of youthful intensity, and both actresses play it truthfully, digging deeply beneath the surface. In key supporting roles, both Reese-Williams and Dillon carry strong emotional kicks.
Justine knows she comes across as strong and confident, but people around her are more in control of their lives. So the biggest question is whether she will accept the care that's offered. But first she has to be brutally honest about how she's feeling. Justine also understands that she's the only person who can sort out her messy life, and perhaps she's beginning to see that her problems stem from her self-hatred. The film certainly never presents this as an easy journey, but it never loses sight of hope.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Jon Garcia
prd Jon Garcia, Lacy Todd, Rodney Washington, Eddie Passadore
with Ernesto Reyes, Jesse Tayeh, Jimmy Garcia, Alma Gloria Garcia, Marian Mendez, Evie Riojas, Rega Lupo, Eduardo Reyes, Alba Larsen, Yolanda Porter, Lowell Deo, Bruce Jennings
release US 19.Mar.21
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A low-key prison drama infused with a Latino vibe and strong emotions, this perceptive film centres on a connection between two inmates as they shift from wary rivals to friends and then lovers. And where the story goes is both unexpected and provocative. Writer-director Jon Garcia takes an observant approach, letting things develop organically across a slightly extended running time. It's an ambitious story told with remarkable sensitivity.
Sentenced to three years in prison, thoughtful Ruben (Reyes) is put into a cell with tough-guy Carlos (Tayeh), who quickly asserts his dominance. While quietly learning the ropes, Ruben settles in, missing his young daughter Marisa (Larsen), who's staying with his mother. But just as Ruben and Carlos have a moment of intimacy, Carlos is released from custody. Years later, Ruben gets out and needs to track down his gangster cousin Julio (Lupo) to find Marisa. But first he tracks down Carlos, which means they must work out who they are to each other now.
Flashbacks fill in Ruben's backstory, recounting how Julio got him a job as a mob driver, leading to an illicit fling with a client (Riojas) and a tragic accident. The way filmmaker Garcia gently reveals character details is hugely engaging, for example showing the otherwise hard-edged Carlos' artistic side as he paints pictures and teaches Ruben to cook. Which makes the film a sharp exploration of the true meaning of masculinity. Dialog is nuanced and expressive, adding unexpected textures to the interaction to help the story develop in surprising directions.
Reyes and Tayeh nicely play the guarded conversations between Ruben and Carlos, opening up to each other even while maintaining protective barriers. The subtle moments in which they become more vulnerable are played beautifully, as they share profound secrets from their past and connect with each other physically. Even in the later scenes, their relationship continues to develop authentically, with a steady stream of perceptive conversations, which are made more involving due to understated performances from the cast around them.
This is a powerful portrait of two hyper-masculine men who find something in each other that helps them make sense of the world. Filmmaker Garcia takes an bold approach, continually deepening the characters and their interaction while setting up a tense action climax and moving finale. It may be overlong, and the plot does feel rather pushy as it heads inexorably toward a clash with the ruthless Julio. This aside, the way the film takes on machismo is clever and even revelatory.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Kerry Mondragon
prd Kerry Mondragon, Salvatore Sclafani
with Sam Quartin, Dylan Sprouse, Nekhebet Kum Juch, Craig Stark, Eden Anne Brolin, Thea Sofie Loch Naess, Max Madsen, Alma Martinez, Cody Burkett, Barbara Palvin, Allie Kaplan, Lexie Kaplan
release US 26.Feb.21
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Scrappy and uneven, this offbeat thriller is set in a disease-stricken American West desperate for medical treatment. Writer-director Kerry Mondragon takes an indulgent approach, filling the screen with gratuitously offbeat images while creating a choppy story structure that never quite connects the dots. But by including real people in the cast, he creates an intriguingly aimless quality that makes it impossible to predict where it might go.
After robbing a pharmacy, Blake (Quartin) delivers the stolen meds to an under-supplied clinic, ditching her pushy boyfriend (Madsen) in the process. But she and her impulsively destructive mute cohort Bobby (Kum Juch) become entangled with Luke (Sprouse), a junkie who's also in the illicit drug trade. At his wit's end, Luke has little choice but to accompany them on their next job. As they travel around on the fringe of civilisation, they meet a steady stream of colourful people, most of whom aren't particularly helpful. And Luke is desperate for another hit.
The film has a brisk pace, shot and edited in a deliberately arch, abrasive style that's edgy and cool but neither coherent nor engaging. Still, Ben Brahem Ziryab's wide-screen photography is often spectacular, with lushly hued skies, eye-catching settings and rather a lot of fire and smoke. The depiction of life off the grid is the best thing about the film, adding documentary touches that build more interest in the fictional characters. This also gives some texture to the story's mellow mid-section.
Characters are loose cannons, prone to explosions of crazed emotions that don't seem rooted in anything. Within this heightened unnatural atmosphere, each actor strains to steal scenes with corny accents, goofy physicality and forced mannerisms. Quartin is the only one who underplays her role, making Blake a strong, silent type who sees herself as a hero, stealing medicine from the rich to help the poor. Sprouse's gradually likeable Luke calls her on her narcissism, and they have strong chemistry even if their romance feels more requisite than organic.
The story's medical angles have familiar echoes in the current pandemic, even though the film was made earlier and references a sexually transmitted disease. These issues add some subtext, especially in the depiction of people who have chosen to live beyond the reach of society. So it's a bit frustrating that the plot is so unfocussed, and so difficult to engage with on any real level. Mondragon definitely has a distinctive eye, and a more compelling narrative might have made this a cult hit.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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