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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 15.May.22
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Carey Williams
scr KD Davila
prd Isaac Klausner, John Fischer, Marty Bowen
with RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, Sebastian Chacon, Sabrina Carpenter, Maddie Nichols, Madison Thompson, Diego Abraham, Summer Madison, Gillian Rabin, Patrick Lamont Jr, Robert Hamilton, Mike Forbs
release US/UK 20.May.22
22/US Amazon 1h45
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
While its plot is a rather standard stoner action-comedy, provocative humour sends this film swerving in unexpectedly dark directions where much of the comedy hinges on racist language and attitudes. It's refreshing that writer KD Davila and director Carey Williams never flinch in depicting thematically loaded events, even as they play up cliches from the long-night-gone-crazily-wrong genre. So where the engaging story goes has a genuine sense of urgency.
Determined to cement themselves as legends at their university, lively Sean (Cyler) goads his nice-guy pal Kunle (Watkins) into an epic tour of parties. While Kunle worries about jeopardising his grades, Sean pushes him to cut loose. But when they stop to collect their housemate Carlos (Chacon), they find a nearly unconscious white girl (Nichols) on the floor. And three brown boys are afraid to call the police. So they embark on a mission to take this "Goldilocks" somewhere safe. Meanwhile, her sister Maddie (Carpenter) is looking for her with two friends (Thompson and Abraham).
Balancing a lighthearted tone with edgy material is tricky, constantly threatening to make this more thriller than comedy. The situations these guys get into are genuinely perilous, inflamed by both actual bigotry and the appearance of it. And things take on even more urgency when they discover that this wasted girl is only 17. Their fear of the authorities and others is remarkably easy to understand. And as events spiral comically, the writing, directing and acting meaningfully grapple with strikingly important things.
Kunle may be a stereotype, the smart guy involved in something dodgy that could derail his promising future, but Watkins makes him complex and sympathetic, so he becomes someone we truly care about. His camaraderie with the bright-spark Cyler and endearingly sensitive Chacon is nicely played on various levels, especially when they clash and react in their own distinct ways. Carpenter injects a badly needed female perspective in a surprisingly demanding role, while Nichols has her own momentous scenes along the way.
This genre is usually most notable for its mindless audacity, leaving the raucous antics as the most memorable things about the movie. Indeed, there are plenty of wacky moments involving drugs, violence and misunderstandings, while the central premise feels over-familiar. But there's striking resonance in the way everything is given unusual weight by the underlying racial textures. This creates some unusually pungent moments of suspense along the way, and leaves us with a lot to think about. Especially with the viciously astute final moments.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Jack Fessenden
prd Jack Fessenden, Larry Fessenden, Adam Scherr, James Felix McKenney, Chris Ingvordsen
with Motell Gyn Foster, Alex Hurt, Cody Kostro, Angus O'Brien, James Le Gros, Andi Matichak, Alex Breaux, Asa Spurlock, John Christian, Braxton Sohns, Violet Savage, Caleb Cushing
release US 13.May.22
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Wars in three centuries are linked by common themes and experiences in this experimental drama. Each contained sequence plays out with five characters facing big decisions amidst confusing military conflicts. The limited cast and settings make this often feel theatrical, especially as the chapters hinge on moral decisions. But the film's skilful simplicity helps makes it involving and provocative, presenting an unusually complex take on the pointlessness of war.
On a misty battlefield in the American Civil War, four Union soldiers are digging into their foxhole when a wounded interloper (Foster) appears. While they debate the dangers of carrying him to a medic, he warns that a vast army is coming. During the Great War in Europe, five men on the frontline encounter a lone German (Breaux) and disagree about whether he's a threat or a valuable prisoner. And in Iraq, cocky Marines are messing around in their Humvee when they're ambushed. Unable to communicate, they don't know how long a rescue might take.
Each actor's role shifts from period to period, most notably for Foster, who as a Black man plays a figure of suspicion in the 1800s, essentially cannon fodder in the 1900s and a sergeant in the 2000s. Segments are shot in differing styles, with the murky Civil War giving away to a monochrome WWI and a blindingly sunny Iraq. In these places, the ability to make a decision is muddied by fear, uncertainty and preconceptions. And this mental claustrophobia is sharply echoed in the tight camerawork.
Performances are riveting, reflecting conflicted thoughts and feelings of soldiers facing their mortality. While Foster registers strongest with his varied roles, Hurt's Morton holds firm as a sometimes overly intense natural leader. Kostro's Clark has an edgy nervousness that often seems as dangerous as any bullet. O'Brien's Conrad offers an open-faced compassion that's magnetic. Le Gros' Wilson is the thoughtful voice of reason, even when badly injured. And switching in Matichak's Gale in the desert mission adds an unusual female texture.
Each sequence has an eerily timeless quality, where smoke, darkness and the sun's glare obscure the outside world, cleverly obscuring any sense of moral imperative. The middle chapter is filmed in black and white like a heightened Twilight Zone episode, with inky blackness beyond the barbed wire putting the focus on almost supernatural discernment. And while ostensibly here to fight for their country, the main goal for each of these people is to get home alive.
The Quiet Girl An Cailín Ciúin
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Colm Bairead
prd Cleona Ni Chrualaoi
with Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett, Michael Patric, Kate Nic Chonaonaigh, Joan Sheehy, Carolyn Bracken
release Ire/UK 13.May.22
Is it streaming?
Unusually, this Irish film uses emotions to craft its narrative rather than dramatic plotting. This is done with skill and nuance by writer-director Colm Bairead as he hinges the story on a staggeringly textured performance from 12-year-old newcomer Catherine Clinch. What emerges is a strongly resonant exploration of the impact seemingly ordinary experiences can have on a child. And the film has a tactile quality that's simply unforgettable.
In rural Ireland in 1981, Cait (Clinch) lives in a noisy house full of children. Expecting another baby, her parents (Patric and Chonaonaigh) send Cait to live with cousins Eibhlin and Sean (Crowley and Bennett) on a distant farm for the summer. A natural dreamer, Cait is taken aback by how silent and clean this home is, and by Eibhlin's gentle kindness as she shows her the ropes. Meanwhile, Sean continually catches her off guard. Barely speaking a word, he reveals himself to be a hugely tender man with an open heart.
Bairead cleverly conveys these events without much need for dialog, offering pungent insight in a moment of hesitation or a sideways glance, while peppering sets with inventive hints about the characters and situations. The way these people circle around each other is absolutely fascinating, largely because we are seeing everything through Cait's observant eyes. And because we can read the clues, we are able to understand the bigger picture long before she does. In this way, Bairead throws some devastating details into the story without even a hint of sentimentality. Which makes everything that much more moving.
In her very first role, the startlingly engaging Clinch delivers a fully formed performance that reveals its secrets with astonishing subtlety. Cait watches everything intensely, considers what she sees and quietly transforms over the course of the film. Seeing her discover joy in running is exhilarating. And her virtually unspoken connections with Crowley's Eibhlin and Bennett's Sean contain subterranean oceans of feelings. Key moments abound, bristling with humour and humanity, moments of suspense and confusion, and most of all an earthy honesty.
Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Kate McCullough in settings that ripple with subtext, the film also makes terrific use of the period through its layered sound mix, which includes fragments of conversations and various media snippets. What emerges is a remarkable evocation of those things from our childhood that made us who we are, from tiny details to earth-shaking discoveries. And even more powerful is the reminder that it doesn't take any kind of grand gesture to have a positive impact on children we meet along the way.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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