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Short reviews of films I only managed to see late in the game...


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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 7.Jan.23

Catherine Called Birdy  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Catherine Called Birdy
dir-scr Lena Dunham
prd Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan, Lena Dunham, Jo Wallett
with Bella Ramsey, Billie Piper, Andrew Scott, Lesley Sharp, Joe Alwyn, Sophie Okonedo, Isis Hainsworth, Michael Woolfitt, Dean-Charles Chapman, Paul Kaye, David Bradley, Jamie Demetriou, Russell Brand
release US 23.Sep.22,
UK 7.Oct.22
22/UK Working Title 1h48


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woolfitt and ramsey
Setting a present-day style coming-of-age comedy in medieval England, writer-director Lena Dunham takes a crisp look at gender issues, finding truths that are both knowing and timeless. The clever script is packed with witty observations, while the cast finds strong resonance in characters who sometimes feel a bit sitcom-like. And to add a twist to the modern attitudes, the period details are first-rate, bursting with hilariously pointed gags.
As a young teen in a small village, Birdy (Ramsey) knows she's far more clever than anyone gives her credit for. But then women are generally sidelined in her community and, since Birdy is now of age, her father Rollo (Scott) is on the lookout for a lord to marry her. But Birdy doesn't want to be a lady. She'd rather hang out with her best pals Aelis (Hainsworth), the prettiest girl in town, and Perkin (Woolfitt), her cheeky half-brother. She also quite likes her lively Uncle George (Alwyn), but he likes Aelis.
Birdy bristles against all of the things she is told she can't do simply because she's a girl. Even worse, she's seen as little more than a way for her family to earn cash. "I feel as if no part of me is my own," she says, setting out to sabotage each potential match. The large ensemble cast is excellent across the board, adding snappy edges to the characters while bringing out terrific textures in their interaction. The likeable Ramsey is particularly impressive, holding the film together with razor-sharp timing.

The film looks terrific, playing on 13th century beliefs, culture and celebrations in ways that are amusing but never satirical. Birdy's rebellion has real teeth in this setting, and indeed carries strongly barbed parallels today. This is a smart, edgy comedy that's thoroughly engaging because its characters feel so authentic, even if they're all a bit silly. And it's memorable even if the plot gets a bit simplistic in the final act.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 29.Dec.22

Review by Rich Cline | 2/5
dir Adam Shankman
scr Brigitte Hales
prd Barry Josephson, Barry Sonnenfeld, Amy Adams
with Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Maya Rudolph, Gabriella Baldacchino, James Marsden, Idina Menzel, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jayma Mays, Kolton Stewart, Oscar Nunez, Alan Tudyk, Griffin Newman
release US/UK 18.Nov.22
22/US Disney 1h59

See also:
Enchanted (2007)

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adams, baldacchino and dempsey
A rather shocking misfire, this long-awaited sequel to 2007's guilty pleasure hit Enchanted struggles from the start to get its footing. The songs are terrific, once again by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, but they are placed within a script that sloppily dives into a pile of tired cliches. There was definitely potential here: the cast is up for it, but director Adam Shankman can't bring it to life.
It's 15 years later, and always-optimistic fairy tale princess Giselle (Adams) has settled into life with her husband Robert (Dempsey) in New York with his now-teen daughter Morgan (Baldacchino). But the birth of a new baby sparks the urge to move to the suburbs. In this small town, Robert is exhausted by the commute and Morgan hates being away from her friends. Then when Giselle wishes her life was more like a fairy tale, it's darker than she expects, as neighbour Malvina (Rudolph) becomes properly villainous. And Giselle begins to turn into an evil stepmother.
There's potential in this idea, although Hales' script never even attempts to touch the far more intriguing layers of ideas that are right there in the title. Instead, it simply turns every character into someone unlikeable, including Giselle, and sends the plot down a tired fantasy action-adventure rabbit hole. Nothing feels remotely inventive and, unlike the clever original, there is virtually no subtext at all, which makes everyone look vaguely uncomfortable on-screen.

Even the effects feel haphazard and overused, never quite gelling with the premise. A brief trip into Giselle's animated homeland feels perfunctory at best, and only leads to more ugly digital mayhem in a climactic standoff that has no tension at all. Surely these bright songs could have been put to work to tell a sharper, funnier, more engaging story than this. And this engaging cast deserves a lot better.

cert pg themes, language, violence 31.Dec.22

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Fletcher Moules
prd Mike Moon, Michael Penketh
scr Ian Edelman, Maurice Williams, Esa Lewis, Sidney Schleiff, Judnick Mayard
voices Scott Mescudi, Jessica Williams, Laura Harrier, Timothee Chalamet, Ty Dolla $ign, Vanessa Hudgens, Christopher Abbott, Keith David, Arturo Castro, Jaden Smith, 070 Shake, Macaulay Culkin
release US/UK 30.Sep.22
22/US 1h33

Is it streaming?

jabari and meadow
This could fairly easily have been made as a live-action romantic comedy, although animation allows for both visual flourishes and creative casting. It looks terrific, with an original artistic style that holds the attention with its colours, settings and characters. So even if it's rough around the edges, and if the plot has little originality as far as the genre goes, the film is both eye-catching and engaging.
In New York, Jabari (Mescudi) is a street artist who has just been hired to turn his graffiti character Mr Rager into a comic book. Moving into a new loft flat in Manhattan, he reconnects with his ex Carmen (Harrier), who likes his newfound confidence. Then he meets his hot neighbour Meadow (Williams), a photographer preparing for her first gallery show, and sparks fly. His friends Jimmy and Ky (Chalamet and Dolla $ign) urge him to go for it. But just when it all seems like smooth sailing, trouble appears.
Made for adult viewers, this is animation with a strong edge to it, including lots of sex and drugs. So it's a bit frustrating that the obstacle in the romcom narrative isn't remotely surprising, and it doesn't feel quite as insurmountable as it's depicted to be. But the way both Jabari and Meadow refrain from confronting the issue, drawing back into themselves, is realistic and sympathetic. Each of the characters has a lot of life in them, even if they're almost always stoned.

In the end, this is an enjoyable relationship movie that shows off some seriously skilled animation. Several sequences burst off the screen with depth and texture, revealing a high level of creative energy. It's a shame that this never quite makes it into the script. And while the title is a bit baffling, this is the kind of movie that will gain a cult following, which may lead to more inventive further adventures for this superb group of characters.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 1.Jan.23

See How They Run  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
See How They Run
dir Tom George
scr Mark Chappell
prd Gina Carter, Damian Jones
with Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, Pearl Chanda, Charlie Cooper, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Sian Clifford, Shirley Henderson
release UK 9.Sep.22,
US 16.Sep.22
22/UK Searchlight 1h38

Is it streaming?

chanda, rockwell, dickinson, ronan
A camp sensibility livens up this riotous British murder mystery, which is set around a West End theatre in the 1950s. This allows the film to be populated with a large number of diva-like characters, offering playful observations on the nature of show business. In his feature debut, director Tom George creates an amusing tone that's entertaining even if it never quite grabs hold in a meaningful way.
In 1953 London, Richard Attenborough (Dickinson) is playing the detective in the stage production of Agatha Christie's long-running play The Mousetrap. But the Hollywood director (Brody) hired to adapt the play into a movie has just been bumped off backstage, and now Inspector Stoppard (Rockwell) and his chatty sidekick Constable Stalker (Ronan) are on the case. Not only is everyone in the cast and crew a suspect, but they're also the next potential victims.
The film is finely put together, with terrific music and detailed production design, plus a steady stream of snappy, witty gags, verbal goofiness and meta-jokes. Although the awkward double-screens don't help, and the machinations of the plot sometimes feel a bit strained. Still, big personalities add quirky fun to the large ensemble, stoking suspicions and fuelling plot twists. Rockwell and Ronan make an amusing duo, with his gruff apathy contrasting against her efficient curiosity and ability to make a joke at all the wrong moments.

Everyone in the large cast has something suspicious going on, which adds a whiff of subtext. And there are plenty of gags, as well as pivotal plot points, connected to the extended run of The Mousetrap, while Agatha Christie herself (Henderson) makes an appearance. Yes while the narrative is complex and tangled, screenwriter Chappell never adds much resonance, aside from a nice comment on using someone's murder for entertainment.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 5.Jan.23

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