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|Shadows off the beaten path|
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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 17.May.23|
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Jon Erwin, Brent McCorkle
scr Jon Gunn, Jon Erwin
prd Kevin Downes, Jon Erwin, Andrew Erwin, Daryl Lefever, Joshua Walsh, Jerilyn Esquibel
with Joel Courtney, Kelsey Grammer, Jonathan Roumie, Anna Grace Barlow, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Nic Bishop, Jackson Robert Scott, Nicholas Cirillo, Ally Ioannides, Julia Campbell, Mina Sundwall, DeVon Franklin
release US 24.Feb.23,
23/US Lionsgate 2h00
Is it streaming?
Based on real events, this faith-based drama is sharply well-made, drawing parallels between the late-1960s Jesus movement and the psychedelic "turn on, tune in, drop out" generation. Adapting Greg Laurie's autobiography, the filmmakers gently capture the groovy vibe of the period, even if the warm-hearted Christian messaging sometimes overpowers the narrative. But there are dark edges to the story that add authenticity and some gentle provocation.
As anti-war protests rage across America in 1968, hippies are preaching love not hate. Noticing the parallels with Christianity, Southern California pastor Chuck Smith (Grammer) is watching his church getting older and emptier. Then his daughter Janette (Ioannides) introduces him to the Jesus-loving hippie Lonnie Frisbee (Roumie), who challenges Chuck to open the church's doors to young people who are in search of meaning. Meanwhile, 17-year-old Greg (Courtney) finds common ground with a group of free-thinking teens, including Cathe (Barlow). But experimenting with drugs leaves them questioning their choices, so they try Chuck's rejuvenated church.
Each scene pushes Chuck and Greg forward in their journeys. While the filmmakers never take a particularly complex approach, the characters have a likeable earthiness to them, and the story touches on several challenging topics. It's enjoyable to watch Chuck open his mind and his heart to scruffy, lively young people who casually upend the status quo of staid religiosity, jolting the old-timers from their comfort zones. Although Chuck isn't quite so sure when Lonnie begins getting theatrical during services.
At the centre, Courtney has a spark of charm that works best in the film's looser, more comical moments. His scenes with the likeable Barlow are a bit underpowered, but have some chemistry. Roumie is fascinating as the most complicated person on-screen, a guy who looks like Jesus and seems to have a Messiah complex, plus something darker underneath. And Grammer nicely underplays his role, gently speaking the truth to those who push back against him. He plays Chuck as a friendly man who practices what he preaches.
Because of its strongly Christian perspective, the film hedges around some of its bigger issues, showing some drug-related scenes while dodging trickier things completely, including Frisbee's homosexuality. Taking on textures like this are beyond the scope of a film that so desperately wants to put a positive spin on everything. But it nicely makes the point that faith and truth are stronger than religion, and that only hope can conquer fear.
Review by Rich Cline |
Is it streaming?
There's an edgy honesty to this Irish drama, even if it doubles down on stereotypes about toxic masculinity, excessive drinking and substance abuse. The film's pace is gentle but steady, maintaining a low-key vibe that allows the actors to deliver remarkably textured performances. So even if the plot meanders through a range of sideroads designed to crank up emotions, the characters have a steeliness that holds the attention.
Exhausted by his work on the family dairy farm, Gaelic footballer Cian (Hardwicke) is badly beaten in a drunken brawl while on a night out with friends. Despite what might be a permanent brain injury, he never takes a break, ignoring his doctor's warnings that he should stop playing football. Then his ex Grace (Galligan) returns to visit from London, and he sets out to win her back. But he knows something isn't quite right. It isn't long before everyone begins to realise that he has a serious problem. And he won't listen to them.
Filmmakers Higgins and McGivney maintain a remarkably earthy and natural atmosphere from start to finish, allowing even sleepier scenes to play out to their own organic rhythms. Dialog is understated, nicely sprinkled with jagged humour to offer glimpses into the characters' inner lives. Most engaging are the scenes between Cian and Grace, which expand to explore contrasting feelings about staying in a small town or fleeing for the big city. These also add insight on how people and connections change over the years.
Performances are so naturalistic that nobody seems to be acting at all, even when the situations begin to turn rather melodramatic as Cian's state of mind deteriorates. Hardwicke has a terrific presence as Cian, a sharp young guy who seems unable to pause long enough to see that he's on a self-destructive path even without the brain injury. But he's so likeable that we can't help but care what happens to him. Galligan develops a riveting chemistry with him in a complex subplot that manages to avoid expectations.
Because everything is so grounded, Higgins and McGiveney are able to tap into several bigger themes without ever preaching a message. Although this means that, despite the beefy undercurrents, there never seems to be very much to the film. The hushed approach often feels almost subliminal. And because many scenes simply capture everyday situations and interactions, seemingly without a point, the viewer's full attention is likely to waver from time to time. That said, the characters have a compelling resonance that continually pulls us back in.
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Tina Satter
scr Tina Satter, James Paul Dallas
prd Brad Becker-Parton, Riva Marker, Greg Nobile, Noah Stahl
with Sydney Sweeney, Josh Hamilton, Marchant Davis, Benny Elledge, Allan Anthony Smith, John Way
release US 29.May.23,
BERLIN FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Not merely based on a true story, this film's script is lifted verbatim from the FBI's recording of the arrest of a young woman suspected of leaking a classified document about Russian meddling in the 2016 US election. It's startlingly gripping, churning with menace as complex characters reveal intricate details. Adapting her award-winning play, filmmaker Tina Satter inventively unearths bigger issues while taking the audience on a harrowing journey.
Arriving home from a Georgia supermarket in early June 2017, young Air Force veteran Reality Winner (Sweeney) is met by FBI Agent Garrick (Hamilton) and his partner Taylor (Davis). They tell her they have a search warrant and ask her about her work as a translator for a government contractor, zeroing in on her access to NSA documents. While agents search her house and car, she worries about her dog and cat and nervously answers all of their questions. Eventually they corner her into admitting that she sent a classified report to a news outlet.
Satter doubles down on the verbatim approach by offering cutaways to both the audio files and the conversation's transcription, using ingenious effects to depict moments that are redacted from the official record. For the audience, it feels like this series of events is unfolding in real time (actually it's slightly conflated), which adds to the intensity of the situation. Camerawork is also inventive, circling around the people in ways that reveal and obscure while offering an astonishing level of throwaway detail to ground everything.
Even when Reality admits to leaking the document, her motivations are pure, an attempt to clarify rumours that were blindly swirling in the media. As the real Winner later noted, "I pledged service to the American people." Sweeney has a riveting presence as a young woman whose vulnerability makes her irresistibly sympathetic. Her face registers honesty and defiance mingled with genuine fear. Hamilton and Davis are also excellent as agents trying to keep things casual, even as they have a harsh job to do.
While the story unfolds without editorialising, sticking precisely to the recording, it's also clear where Satter's sensibilities lie, mainly in the way the final act is edited. This is a powerful exploration of a government that is determined to prevent people from knowing the truth, even when it affects them directly. So it's especially chilling to remember how the media diverted attention from the real story to Winner's whistleblowing. And because this happens almost every day, it's important to be reminded that we need to find the truth beneath the distractions.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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