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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 21.Apr.21

Me You Madness  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
Me You Madness
dir-scr Louise Linton
prd Kristen Ruhlin, Louise Linton
with Louise Linton, Ed Westwick, Shuya Chang, Tyler Barnes, Jimmy Dinh, Gwen Van Dam, Joel Michaely, Alli Boyer-Ybarra, Seth Coltan, Suzanne Dean, Manda Omoregie, Dawn Matthews
release US 12.Feb.21,
UK 19.Apr.21
21/US 1h38

Is it streaming?

westwick and linton
A snarky, riotously exaggerated first-person voiceover and neon colour scheme are only the first ways this movie echoes American Psycho. Actor-filmmaker Louise Linton takes a blackly comical take on the empty thrills of over-the-top privilege. Heavily stylised, it's a riot of 1980s pop classics, with scenes that look more like fabulous Instagram dreams than actual events. So while the fantasy is fun, the plot itself feels rather thin.

Shark-like hedge fund manager Catherine (Linton) is loving the high life in her palatial mansion in the hills above Malibu. When Tyler (Westwick) arrives to rent a room and keep an eye on the house while she travels, he has no idea that she knows he's a thief. Then as she seduces him, he also wouldn't guess that she's a cannibalistic serial killer. So when they spark an unexpected connection, both of them are thrown off balance. Tyler no longer feels right about stealing and running, while Catherine kind of wants to keep him around.
The first 15 minutes set up Catherine's ludicrously perfect life, revelling in her enjoyment of champagne, cocaine, exercise, designer clothes, cars, languages and a spot of extreme violence. Linton's writing and directing are fast-paced and entertaining, so the film holds the interest even if the themes aren't terribly deep. And while scenes are packed with lusty flirtation, the sexual sequences are too cartoonish to generate any real steam. But even if the nuttiness feels vacuous, at least each frame looks absolutely gorgeous.

Performances are similarly heightened, adding enjoyably to the film's arch sensibility, which makes it's fun to watch even if it's impossible to identify with anyone. Westwick's hapless lad is grounded enough to be likeable, the only character who acts like a human being. Linton makes Catherine a relentless diva who wears diamonds and high heels when she's lounging around the house, changing into another glamorous gown for each scene. Her best moments come when her mask drops, as it were. And yes, they're very cute together.

Clearly, the point here is that this is Catherine's idealised version of her life, where she is in complete control of everything from work and home to the dumb men she literally has for dinner. Of course, her real problem is unrelated to her murderous impulses: she's terrified of intimacy. Similarly, as a filmmaker Linton is always more interested in the witty banter, which often breaks the fourth wall to make an absurd point. And it's silly and snappy enough to be a guilty pleasure.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 12.Apr.21

The Oak Room  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
The Oak Room
dir Cody Calahan
scr Peter Genoway
prd Chad Archibald, Cody Calahan, Ari Millen
with RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge, Ari Millen, Martin Roach, David Ferry, Nicholas Campbell, Amos Crawley, Avery Esteves, Coal Campbell, Adam Seybold
release US Oct.20 ths,
UK 26.Apr.21
20/Canada 1h29

Is it streaming?

Set in rural Canada, this horror drama feels like a play with its single location, limited cast and dialog-based plot. Thankfully, it's directed with plenty of style by Cody Calahan, who keeps the audience unsettled from the beginning with cleverly underlit scenes, jarring music and characters who are clearly hiding something. The film's themes are relatively thin, but there's a nice depth to the connections between these men.
In an isolated tavern on a snowy night, Paul (Outerbridge) is just closing up when Steve (Mitte) appears out of the storm. Paul is furious that Steve vanished three years earlier with no explanation and missed his father's funeral. Steve also owes Paul rather a lot of cash, but says he has something even better: a story. So he begins recounting events from a week ago at the Oak Room, when out-of-towner Richard (Roach) interrupted barman Michael (Millen) at closing time. But it's what happened a bit earlier that will have an impact on Paul.
The film cuts back and forth between these two stories in similar settings, both involving tetchy barmen who are annoyed by after-hours arrivals who have suspicious tales to share. And each character spins a yarn that involves stories within stories, sparking flashbacks that add to both the back-stories and the film's overall creepy atmosphere. Aside from the echoing situations, the multiple plotlines continually circle around, adding tense revelations that feed into an overall narrative.

Performances are somewhat heightened, as characters butt heads and share their arch anecdotes. Some of them are also clearly freaked out by the accounts they hear. Mitte is terrific as a guy trying to hold in his emotions as he tries to get his story out in the face of deep resentment from Paul. It's a layered, intriguing performance that holds the attention. Outerbridge is solid as the angry Paul, who takes all of this very seriously, while Millen gets a bit more to do as a guy with some nasty secrets.

While there's not much to it aside from the cleverly constructed plot, the attitudes, charged dialog and riotous grisliness keep the film entertaining, playfully hinting at how the tales will weave together to suggest something urgently imminent. Where the overall plot goes is more involving for what remains unsaid, including some subtle touches that catch the characters off guard and hint at deeper bonds. And the overwhelming darkness that surrounds these men adds to the oppressive gloom as we know something even more unsettling is coming.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 17.Apr.21

Stone Fruit
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Stone Fruit
dir Brandon Krajewski
scr Brandon Krajewski, Robert Andrew Perez
prd Emily Beach, Brandon Krajewski, Michelle Opitz
with Matt Palazzolo, Rob Warner, Thomas Hobson, Nick Trengove, Michael Sun Lee, Amanda Grindley, Victor Abascal, Amanda Hutchinson, Maria Toste, Mika Toke, Emily D'Amore, Stephen Pu
release US Jul.20 llff,
UK 26.Apr.21
20/US 1h35

Is it streaming?

hobson, warner and palazzolo
Relaxed and realistic, this gently comical drama circles around a couple who feel their relationship has run its course. Essentially an extended conversation between them, plus an added interloper, the narrative circles around within the words. Indeed, the film is rather talky. But it's also nicely shot in lovely locations, and the actors give the dialog an improvisational authenticity as they swerve through some spicy subject matter.
Heading out for a wine-tasting weekend, Manny and Russ (Palazzolo and Warner) are hoping to cement their friendship before they divorce after seven years together. Then when they stop for lunch, Manny admits that their friend Byron (Hobson) is meeting them at the first vineyard. Byron is shocked to hear they're separating, and his presence both relaxes the situation and opens the door for some harsh confrontations. But they have a great day, and all three tumble into bed together in the evening. After Byron leaves in the morning, Manny and Russ finally talk.
The early scenes show how close Manny and Russ still are, exploring common ground, personal history and shared interests, plus of course well-aimed jabs. Their words echo their conflicted feelings about their decision to separate, creating a sharp but bittersweet tone that's loaded with clever wordplay (including the title metaphor). The atmosphere brightens considerably when Byron joins them, shifting the dynamic and triggering lively memories as well as a more astute dissection of their relationship. He sees that Manny and Russ are very different, but he also thinks they fit together perfectly.

The late Palazzolo has an engagingly offhanded persona as the rebellious Manny, likeable and cheeky. By contrast, Warner's Russ takes everything terribly seriously, sometimes struggling to get the joke. There's strong chemistry between the actors, even when small resentments gurgle up. And things get much more spirited when Hobson's charismatic Byron turns up. Hobson has a particularly strong spark of camaraderie with Palazzolo. Thankfully, Warner never lets himself be sidelined by them, which ultimately creates an involving balance.

Even with the script's nonstop string of words, there's an effortless flow as the dialog shifts from topic to topic, mood to mood. And the rolling series of sun-dappled winery settings keeps everything moving forward. Tiny arguments and micro-aggressions are actually expressions of closeness between Manny and Russ, even though they misread them. Most interesting is how this threesome forces Manny and Russ to be intimate with each other again, opening up far deeper emotions than they expected.

cert 15 themes, language 19.Apr.21

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