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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 5.Jan.22

Robin Robin dir Dan Ojari, Michael Please
scr Dan Ojari, Michael Please, Sam Morrison
voices Bronte Carmichael, Richard E Grant, Gillian Anderson, Adeel Akhtar, Amira Macey-Michael, Tom Pegler, Endeavour Clutterbuck, Megan Harris
21/UK 32m

Robin Robin  

Robin Robin Aardman takes a step away from their usual claymation to create this furry stop-motion adventure. It's as relentlessly charming and hilarious as expected, with some added cuddly touches due to the warm textures of hair and feathers. And it also has a delightfully Christmassy setting in which a group of endearing characters set off on a wonderfully messy heist. In other words, it's unmissable.

Robin (voiced by Carmichael) is a young bird raised by mice, learning to sneak and steal from her adoptive Dad (Akhtar). But while her many siblings have honed their skills, Robin isn't terribly sneaky, making too much noise, getting distracted by anything shiny and constantly alerting the "who-mans" to their presence. So one night she sets off on a solo mission to prove herself, meeting a magpie (Grant) who teaches her about being a bird. Although his obsession with a shimmering Christmas tree star leads them into trouble with a territorial cat (Anderson).

The film is beautifully animated with Aardman's usual attention to detail, plus a terrific sense of curiosity and expectation from filmmakers Ojari and Please. Each of character is more than a little deranged, which makes everything they do or say more than a little absurd. But we identify with this quirkiness, a gentle reminder that diversity creates the strongest unity. The expertly squeaky-chirpy-growly voice work brings these critters to life in ways that makes us smile. Yes, it's thoroughly nutty, and it deserves to become a holiday staple.


ogunjobi and friends dir-scr John Ogunmuyiwa
with Tomi Ogunjobi, Kemi Lofinmakin, Adjani Salmon, Xanthi Ncube, Deenie Davies, Ade Dee Haastrup, Mamad Heidari, Michael Akinsulire
21/UK 11m

Precious Hair & Beauty  

Precious Hair & Beauty Filmmaker John Ogunmuyiwa expertly catches a burst of life over the course of one day inside an African hair salon in London. Opening with a snappy collage depicting lively local colour, including busy markets and high streets, the camera then takes a position at the back of the shop, with the hilariously entertaining people inside and the continuing bustle out on the street.

Auntie (Ogunjobi) runs her salon as a connected part of the community, and she welcomes her customers with a sharp sense of humour, earning the respect of her regulars and taking no nonsense from strangers. Yes, Auntie has plenty of attitude, as do those who come into her shop, engaging in hilarious conversations about pretty much everything. And their comical interaction reflects warm long-term relationships.

This is a slice-of-life short, so it feels a little choppy and random, offering brief glimpses of a range of amusingly energetic encounters. Best of all is how action on the street causes the riotous conversation inside the shop to pause, as they watch yet another mini-drama unfold outside, using the window as if it's a huge-screen television. This provides a couple of key moments along the way, including a hilariously nutty punchline.


ajayi dir-scr Mitch Kalisa
with Jonathan Ajayi, Heather Alexander, Charlie O'Connor, Louis Richards, Kate Ovenden, Grace Daly, Lauren Raisbeck, Emily Seale-Jones
21/UK 13m

Play It Safe  

Play It Safe There's a nicely unflashy tone to this short drama, which is set in an acting class where the only diverse student is struggling against a variety of racial preconceptions. The script is a little heavy handed about its themes, but it's sharply well shot and edited, and the topic is explored in ways that challenge the viewer to think about issues from important perspectives.

While leading her acting students, the teacher (Alexander) urges them to get rid of all of their fears when they go on stage. But Jonathan (Ajavi) is struggling with the simplistically stereotypical Black role he's being offered in a play fellow students (O'Connor and Richards) are putting on. And then there's an animal role-playing exercise that takes an unnervingly pointed turn both for Jonathan and the entire class.

The actors bring a superbly loose sensibility to the film, while writer-director Kalisa hones in tightly on the bigger themes, including some very complex emotional reactions. The attitudes are difficult and often provocative, intriguingly balanced by both Ajavi's strongly internalised central performance and the surrounding cast members, who cleverly play characters who veer from thoughtless to awkward as they have an intense moment of realisation.


eden kotting dir Andrew Kotting, Eden Kotting
scr Andrew Kotting, Hattie Naylor
with Eden Kotting
voices Marcia Farquhar, Schneider, Hattie Naylor, Andrew Kotting
21/UK 13m

Diseased and Disorderly  

Diseased and Disorderly British filmmaker Andrew Kotting takes a powerful journey into the imagination of his neurodiverse daughter Eden with this stunningly visual documentary collage. The film animates Eden's expressive artwork to allow the viewer to see the world through her curious eyes. It's witty and immersive, with a terrific sense of colour and energy in both the visuals and the sounds.

Eden's work is an evocative rendition how she experiences everything that's around her, overflowing with surreal humour and razor-sharp observations. She is also a lively character at the centre of this kaleidoscopic trip into her life and work. Her paintings and collages are loaded with telling insights, animated to swirl around the screen beautifully, including eye-catching 3D animation that brings her drawings to life.

Taking this trip into Eden's perspective is extraordinary. Not only is the imagery beautiful in a distinctly original way, but Eden's personality comes through loudly both in her artwork and her appearances on-screen. It's a remarkable reminder that there's a whole lot more to reality than we usually see, and that especially imaginative artists have an ability to take us into whole new worlds.


adeyeye dir-scr Adura Onashile
with Modupe Adeyeye, Kim Allan, Nebli Basani, John Mclarnon, Ainsley Jordan, Shona McHugh
20/UK 15m

Expensive Shit  

Expensive Shit Skilfully shot and edited, this darkly provocative short drama from Scotland features some powerfully unsettling moments as it explores endemic racism and sexism. There's a bleak edge to the film, which echoes in film's rather harsh (and somewhat confusing) title. But it hones in on a seedy secret that's horrific, not to mention criminal, in nature. So the moral dilemma at the centre of the film feels properly wrenching.

The story takes place in a Glasgow nightclub ladies' room, where the attendant is Nigerian immigrant Tolu (Adeyeye). She has been forced to deal with men who pay to watch through a one-way mirror as she offers makeup tips to women at the sinks. These women range from thoughtless to cruelly racist, while the men impatiently push Tolu to take dangerous next steps. All of them treat Tolu as if she isn't a person with feelings.

As this evening continues, the film begins to shift into a thriller as Tolu is threatened by despicable men who insist that she does something unthinkable. Writer-director Onashile uses clever camerawork to get under Tolu's skin, while Adeyeye reveals her emotions in ways that are intensely compelling. It's a terrific performance, packed with complex thoughtfulness. As it rushes along, the narrative itself feels a little under-developed, but it carries a powerful kick.


fowler dir-scr Sophie Littman
with India Fowler, Conrad Khan, Annabel Hill
21/UK 14m

Know the Grass  

Know the Grass A striking visual sensibility sets this short apart, adding tensions and intrigue from the start. Flickering editing adds jarring uncertainty, along with grainy sound and imagery that's often surreal in its misty-damp beauty. Writer-director Littman has created an almost Lynchian atmosphere, using heightened suggestion to hint at subtext in ways that are inventive and haunting, but never quite clear.

Mark (Khan) is driving his observant sister Mattie (Fowler) and their energetic younger sibling Lucy (Hill) to a play rehearsal when the car breaks down. And when they finally arrive, the rehearsal has been cancelled and they find themselves locked inside the empty community centre with the alarm ringing. Mattie sees this as a confirmation of premonitions she has been having. And clearly some deeper issues are gurgling within this family.

The film is designed to reflect Mattie's frazzled state of mind, as she's sure something terrible is about to happen. Fowler plays her with a wide-open emotionality that builds strong suspense, even if we never quite know why. This is cleverly contrasted with the gifted Khan's big-brother dismissiveness and Hill's girly panic attacks. To amp things up, Littman piles grating elements into the film. This makes it sometimes difficult to watch, especially with such a vague but palpable sense of dread.


getzug and cronin dir-scr Jeffrey D Simon
with Coby Getzug, Barrett Riggins, Liam Cronin
20/US 19m


Steam! Shot in an ambitious wide-screen ratio, this Wild West musical has a superb sense of the expansive landscapes of New Mexico as well as the complex characters. It's set in the present day, with stage-style musical numbers that aren't particularly memorable but nicely bring out internalised thoughts and feelings. Performances are strong, and the singing adds an unusual angle to the gritty action.

Working as a conductor on a tourist steam train, Lance (Getzug) enjoys singing along with his passengers as they snap photos on their journeys, and chatting to his radio-dispatch boyfriend Jud (Riggins) along the way. Then one day a masked bandit (Cronin) robs the train, and Lance is consumed with self-doubt because he didn't stop him. He's also intrigued by the danger, so when Lance sees the robber in a bar later, he runs off into the wilderness with him. But this might not be the adventure he was hoping to have.

While the film is produced to a high standard, the script nicely captures Lance's yearning for excitement after 10 years on the job, and of course this wanderlust extends to his relationship as he recklessly pursues a bit of infidelity. At least until things take a sharp turn. With sung dialog rather than actual songs, the film covers a lot of ground in under 20 minutes, as the actors get deep under the skin of the three central characters, tracing a striking range of moods along the way. It's warm and funny, but also violent, twisty and ultimately moving.


reid and essiedu dir-scr Sam H Freeman, Ng Choon Ping
with Paapa Essiedu, Harris Dickinson, Theo Barklem-Biggs, Asha Reid, Theo Ogundipe, Camille Mallet De Chauny, Demmy Ladipo, Samson Cox-Vinel
21/UK 18m

london film fest


femme Instantly dark and intense, this dazzling British drama follows its central character on an odyssey that feels both enticing and properly dangerous. Filmmakers Freeman and Ping have a terrific visual sensibility, even if the film is badly underlit for viewing at home. And while the plot is very heavy, the cast and filmmakers take a skilfully understated approach to the characters, drawing the audience inexorably into a heightened situation that feels almost unbearably unnerving.

It opens with a father warning his son about people who will try to hurt an effeminate boy like him. This is a constant echo in the mind of the now fabulously glamorous gay man Jordan (Essiedu), who shines on the nightclub scene with his friends, dressed to impress. But on this particular night, he is feeling hurt and humiliated by an ex, so he heads off into the night with the flirtatious drug dealer Wes (Dickinson). When they stop at a house party, the combination of chemicals, lust and violence is intoxicating. And terrifying.

Shot in inky nighttime shadows, the film is infused with gorgeous bursts of deep colours both in the characters and settings. And Jordan's shimmering makeup and glittery mesh tshirt strikingly contrast with the drabness of the hazy drug den and its surly thug inhabitants. Performances are particularly strong, as Essiedu and Dickinson layer subtext into their roles, hinting at deeper interest and intrigue. Their moment of unspoken connection is breathtakingly well shot and played, which adds a serious impact to what follows. And while the ending feels more than a little over the top, it leaves us out of breath.


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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall