Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...


< <
I N D I E S > >

See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 23.Oct.22

All Sorts  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
All Sorts
dir-scr J Rick Castaneda
prd Laura Reich, Omar Kenawi
with Eli Vargas, Greena Park, Luis Deveze, Benjamin Vargas, Chelan Shepherd, Clayton Bussey, Dannul Dailey, Maria Galvan, Dan L Henson, Phillip Wheeler, Michelle Schubert, Christopher Mercy
release UK Nov.21 rff,
US 7.Oct.22
21/US 1h34

Is it streaming?

park and vargas
Infused with absurdity, this warmly nutty comedy plays on the random anonymity of being a minor cog in a large corporation. Writer-director J Rick Castaneda sets up the film as a series of witty vignettes and subplots, while an engaging coming-of-age storyline holds the interest. The movie feels a bit light and silly, but its more inventive emotive undercurrents can help us see ourselves from an unusual perspective.
Living in his car while searching for work as a writer, Diego (Vargas) has to settle for a job at Data-Mart, where his eccentric boss Vasquez (Deveze) is impressed with his typing speed. As he tries to define his new role, Diego's colleagues seem over-busy. Then he meets filing whiz June (Park), and encourages her to enter a competition. As he works out various mysteries around the office, he begins to fall for June. And with all the stuff going on in this workplace, Diego starts to think that it might make a good story.
With technology from the late-1990s, the film's retro-bonkers vibe is reminiscent of Being John Malkovich. Surreal things are happening in most scenes, from spies in the ceiling to a carnivorous filing cabinet to the crazed filing championships, which are held secretly behind a vending machine. Several of these story threads are augmented with offbeat effects or animated elements, as Diego and June communicate through cute cartoon post-it notes and cassette tapes. And Diego's riotously inane page-a-day calendar offers running-gag motivational quotes.

Performances have an earthy authenticity even within this wacky environment, and even with minimal dialog. At the centre, Vargas gives Diego a likeable sense of hopefulness. Vargas has a lost-puppy quality that's remarkably endearing. And he portrays Diego's curiosity as a superpower that allows him to navigate this undefined job and even somehow thrive both at work and with his coworkers. His odyssey is perhaps too silly to be properly moving, but Vargas finds some strong moments along the way, especially with Park's more opaque June.

This is a quietly observant film about the inventive things people do to survive in situations that seem to be completely alien, Characters have idiosyncratic ways of connecting with others, finding places that provide an escape or creating drama where none is needed. But each person is simply doing the best they can, even if their earnest efforts seem ridiculous to almost everyone else. Castaneda sometimes seems to forget that this idea is far more interesting than whether June will win the big filing tournament.

cert pg themes, language, violence 5.Oct.22

Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
dir James Mark
prd Bruno Marino
scr James Mark, Matthew K Nayman
with Sara Mitich, George Tchortov, Evie Loiselle, Karen LeBlanc
release US/UK 30.Sep.22
22/Canada 1h29


Is it streaming?

tchortov and mitich
This is one of those contained thrillers that locks someone in a mysterious room with no additional information. Director James Mark keeps the imagery sleek and the atmosphere intriguing but, even when another person appears, it's difficult to care about characters and a situation that are so undefined. And much of the dialog feels designed to extend the running time, providing only basic morsels of depth and emotion.
Waking up with a flurry of confusing memories, Eileen (Mitich) finds herself in a sound-padded room, physically compromised by sounds, lights, chains and something implanted in her head. Using threats against her young daughter Eve (Loiselle), a disembodied voice (LeBlanc) orders her to do seemingly impossible things, pushing her to use psychic abilities she doesn't know she has. When her husband Roger (Tchortov) turns up trapped with her, he finds all of this absurd. But they work together to hone her telekinetic skills, even as they wonder why anyone would put her through this.
Until the final sequence, everything happens in this room. Visual variety comes in frequent flickering scenes in Eileen's subconscious that are set on a surreal beach, during which we see her dreamily interacting with Eve, Roger and various items that are also elements of the tests inside the room. Meanwhile, Roger's presence in her cell allows for fragments of conversation that contain insight into their tempestuous relationship. But the script is badly undercooked, from the dialog to a variety of situations that stubbornly refuse to make much sense.

Mitich has strong presence as the steely Eileen, whose short temper fuels her superpowers. Threats against her daughter are a rather simplistic motivation, but Mitich sells it. Tchortov's Roger is even more hotheaded than Eileen, so watching these two bump heads makes us wonder how they ever got together in the first place, especially when we discover that Eileen is a brainy physicist while Roger plays with metal band. More interesting is their growing cooperation as they try to work out how they can possibly escape from this room.

There are several moments along the way that abandon logic (why try to move a bolted-down table instead of a tiny ball?). But even if it's untextured, the way Eileen and Roger connect with each other while restoring her memory has some resonance, especially as it hints at twists to come. Indeed, the surreal final 20 minutes push things further than expected. But almost everything about this movie is gimmicky. The skilful visuals might be sharp enough to entertain genre fans, but even they will be frustrated by the pointlessness of it all.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 29.Sep.22

Voodoo Macbeth  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Voodoo Macbeth
dir Dagmawi Abebe, Victor Alonso-Berbel, Hannah Bang, Christopher Beaton, Agazi Desta, Zoe Salnave, Roy Arwas, Tiffany K Guillen, Ernesto Sandoval, Sabina Vajraca
scr Erica Sutherlin, Agazi Desta, Morgan Milender, Jennifer Frazin, Molly Miller, Amri Rigby, Joel David Santner, Chris Tarricone
prd Miles Alva, Jason Phillips, Xiaoyuan Xiao
with Jewell Wilson Bridges, Inger Tudor, June Schreiner, Daniel Kuhlman, Jeremy Tardy, Ashli Haynes, Wrekless Watson, Gary McDonald, Hunter Bodine, Antoine Perry, Kelsey Yates, Skyler Yates
release US 21.Oct.22
21/US Warners 1h49

Is it streaming?

tardy, bridges, mcdonald and tudor
Made workshop-style by the USC film school, this movie dramatises a momentous moment in American theatre with plenty of spark. The 10 directors, eight writers and three producers work together to create a consistently buoyant tone while layering darker themes underneath. The filmmaking is a bit loose, but the ambitious scale of the project is impressive, as is how it so skilfully depicts an important moment in history.
In October 1935, at the Federal Theater Project in Harlem, organisers Rose McClendon (Tudor) and John Houseman (Kuhlman) hire unproven 20-year-old genius Orson Welles (Bridges) to direct an all-Black production of Shakespeare's Scottish play. Based on a suggestion by his actress wife Virginia (Schreiner), Orson's first move is to shift the play's setting to Haiti, with voodoo in place of witchcraft. But the all-consuming project creates tension in his marriage, and there are also a series of obstacles, from Rose becoming too ill to play Lady Macbeth to lead actor Jack (McDonald) struggling with alcoholism.
Additional sideroads include a bigoted political patron (Bodine) buying off critics and a tentative romance between two actors (Tardy and Watson) who must remain hidden in New York's underground gay scene. In other words, there's a lot going on here, and the cast and crew adeptly juggle storylines to keep things moving at a brisk pace. There are involving touches everywhere, and the Macbeth this company is staging looks fabulous. No wonder the show was such a triumph, far ahead of its time.

Performances are a bit oversized, but are effective in the vivid interaction. Bridges goes full-on with Orson, a man who sacrifices everything in his life for his art, which isn't as noble as he thinks it is. But his quick-thinking continually saves the day. His banter with Schreiner has some nice bite to it. The surrounding ensemble adds weight, with particularly engaging work from Tudor and Haynes (as a key actress), while Tardy and Watson get some strongly textured moments all their own.

The script is a bit of a mishmash of ideas and topical commentary, some of which feels rather anachronistic. And several of the incidents portrayed seem apocryphal. But the depiction of non-actors rising to the challenge of Shakespeare is beautifully rendered, as are the societal issues woven throughout each characters' experience. It's also a wonderful reminder of the power of storytelling itself, an idea wonderfully echoed in stunning archival footage of the actual 1936 production during the closing credits.

cert 15 themes, language 13.Oct.22

Send Shadows your reviews!

< < I N D I E S > >

© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall