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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 14.Mar.23
The Middle Man
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Bent Hamer
prd Simone Urdl, Jamie Manning, Jennifer Weiss, Reinhard Brundig, Nina Frese, Jacob Jarek
with Pal Sverre Hagen, Tuva Novotny, Paul Gross, Don McKellar, Rossif Sutherland, Nina Andresen Borud, Aksel Hennie, Trond Fausa, Kenneth Welsh, Nicolas Bro, Jim Stark, Sheila McCarthy
release Can 27.May.22,
TORONTO FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Norwegian writer-director Bent Hamer creates an offbeat version of rural Middle America in this warm comedy-drama. The humour is dark and dry, playing on situations that are easy to identify with. Based on a novel, the story unfolds with big wrinkles that draw out deeper themes. This sometimes leaves the film feeling dour and rather grim, but the underlying honesty is powerfully involving, forcing us to look inside ourselves.
In the small town of Karmack, Frank (Hagen) is hired by the sheriff (Gross), doctor (McKeller) and pastor (Bro) to deliver any bad news to members of the community. As the new Middle Man, he's expected adopt a specific attitude, wear a black suit and paint his car grey. He also can't talk about his work, even to his mother (Borud) or best friend Steve (Sutherland). While waiting for accidents to happen, he struggles to separate his work from his personal life. And this becomes particularly tricky when he falls for his secretary Blenda (Novotny).
Exploring a full range of emotional situations, the film continually catches the audience off guard with its resonant treatment of personal pain. Hamer writes and directs situations in inventive ways that feel vaguely surreal, both heightened and understated at the same time, finely using pauses and silences to explore submerged feelings. Because of the nature of Frank's work, he quickly begins to learn that each person has a different way to grieve. So it's surprising that plot takes Frank in snaky directions that add a rising intensity.
Conversations have a wry truthfulness to them, played by the cast in a stylised way that matches the deliberately muted settings. This adds a pungency to the underlying waves of emotion. Hagen skilfully conveys Frank's attempt to maintain perspective even though he's surrounded by tragedy, some of which affects him directly. He and Novotny create strong chemistry without the usual cinematic gimmicks, finding unusual intellectual and emotional connections. And surrounding characters add plenty of texture.
There is such a steady flow of sadness in this film that it begins to feel more like a thriller than a comedy, but ironic touches add both tension and wit. Much of the unfolding drama has a bleakly disturbing quality to it that cleverly plays on Hamer's offhanded way of observing human behaviour and motivations. And along the way, the film becomes a clever, comment on how sometimes, but definitely not always, sadness creates the space for hope to bloom.
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Raine Allen-Miller
scr Nathan Bryon, Tom Melia
prd Yvonne Isimeme Ibazebo, Damian Jones
with David Jonsson, Vivian Oparah, Karene Peter, Benjamin Sarpong-Broni, Malcolm Atobrah, Alice Hewkin, Simon Manyonda, Omari Douglas, Poppy-Quarmby, Marva Alexander, Llewella Gideon, Gary Beadle, Colin Firth
release UK 17.Mar.23,
22/UK Searchlight 1h22
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Bursting with attitude and energy, this South London romcom recounts a hugely engaging story populated by sharply well-played characters. Director Raine Allen-Miller injects colour and life into the camerawork, music and production design, which helps pull the audience in deeper than expected. She also makes terrific use of locations, creating a vivid portrait of the city's multi-ethnic nature. And above all of that, the film is relentlessly charming.
Struggling to recover from a bad breakup, Dom (Jonsson) attends a gallery opening for his photographer friend Nathan (Manyonda) and meets the feisty Yas (Oparah), who is handling her own split much better. Later, Dom meets his ex Gia (Peter), who's now with his former best mate Eric (Sarpong-Broni). Then Yas crashes the lunch, boosting Dom's confidence before luring him into a caper to retrieve a record from the home of her former boyfriend Jules (Atobrah). Along the way, there is of course a spark of interest, but how well do they know each other?
Along the way, the clever script guides both Dom and Yas into situations that make them vulnerable while also highlighting moments in which their self-assurance shines. These are unusually well-rounded characters who are almost overwhelmingly likeable even with their various flaws. So each outrageous encounter with yet another larger-than-life figure is both hilarious and telling. Allen-Miller also brings the audience into the characters' love of both food and music, which adds tasty touches to each scene.
Jonsson and Oparah are a terrific duo together, with Dom's more introspective persona contrasting against Yas' bravado. Seeing them bring out different sides of each other is both fascinating and entertaining. So while they may not seem suited as a couple, they are so cute together that it's impossible not to root for them. Meanwhile, almost everyone they meet is an expert scene-stealer, most notably Sarpong-Broni's deeply unaware Eric. Indeed, the film is packed with memorably hilarious side roles.
Along with witty touches at every level of the production, the script is a surprisingly resonant exploration of how relationships affect our self-image and sense of security. Most of us are just trying to cope with these things as best we can, with whatever tools we have at our disposal. The cast and crew has a lot of fun subverting the usual cliches of a romantic comedy, keeping us laughing while also reminding us that there are some things out there that make it worth breaking out of that protective shell.
Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey
Review by Rich Cline |
Is it streaming?
With AA Milne's beloved novel now in the public domain, anything is possible. Filmmaker Rhys Frake-Waterfield has some great ideas, but they are lost in clumsy direction, camerawork, acting and editing. Set up as a years-later sequel, there's potential in a story about how these lovable creatures have gone feral, but there isn't one scene in this sadistic, misogynistic movie that makes sense even within this warped premise.
After Christopher Robin (Leon) goes off to university, his hybrid animal-human pals turn feral due to starvation and rage. So when Christopher returns to 100 Acre Wood with his wife Mary (Coiz), they are viciously attacked by Pooh (Dowsett) and last remaining sidekick Piglet (Cordell). Meanwhile, Maria (Taylor) brings four girlfriends (Mills, Doig-Thorne, Ronald and Tosini) to a rented country house for a no-phones weekend to recover from her violent past. But of course things are about to get nasty for all of them as Pooh and Piglet go on a staggeringly brutal murder spree.
Perhaps if Frake-Waterfield had injected some black comedy or irony, this might have at least been a guilty pleasure romp. But any laughs are unintentional, largely due to the inept filmmaking. Plot threads appear and disappear at random, characters remain stubbornly undefined, dialog is incoherent and the rubbery masks worn by actors playing Pooh and Piglet are as immobile and nonsensical as the token Instagram model's face. Even worse is the way the cameras leer at the actresses' gratuitously naked bodies, as every woman here is a victim.
With such limited characters, there's little any actor could do to bring them to life, but the inexperience of the crew certainly doesn't help. A couple of dramatic scenes ring awkwardly false, while the rest of the movie requires little more than screaming, and even that is undermined by choppy editing that seems desperate to make up for a script that was made up as it went along. This pushes any possible subtext right off the screen, leaving the characters interchangeable, with confusing appearances and disappearances along the way.
At least Frake-Waterfield tries to get genuinely nasty along the way, indulging in some riotous grisliness that deliberately goes way over the top, rendered with superbly gooey physical effects. But without consistency in the narrative, or a pay-off to any of the set-pieces, the movie can never generate suspense. It may have started with a great idea, but the, ahem, execution leaves it deeply unsatisfying. So the promise of a sequel is genuinely terrifying.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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