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|Shadows off the beaten path|
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 4.Jun.23|
Boonie Bears: Guardian Code
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Lin Yongchang, Shao Heqi
scr Cui Tiezhi, Liu Zhenjie, Xu Yun
prd Daisy Shang, Chen Hongtao, Xu Tianfu, Cai Yuan, Fu Ruoqing
voices Patrick Freeman, Joseph S Lambert, Paul (Maxx) Rinehart, Kally Khourshid, Olivia Seaton-Hill, Chris Boike, Nichalia Schwartz, Siobhan Lumsden, Nicola Vincent, Ruth Urquhart, Kieran Katarey
release Chn 22.Jan.23,
23/China Fantawild 1h36
Is it streaming?
From China, this animated adventure pits the goofball bears against artificial intelligence robotics. Moving at a brisk pace, the story feels frantic, even with a number of quieter moments accompanied by emotive songs. Aside from some rather grim plot points, the film has been designed for very young children with slapstick-style violence and charmingly clumsy antics. They won't mind the nonsensical plot, although it's overcomplicated structure might lose them.
Savvy bear Briar (Freeman) and his enthusiastically dopey brother Bramble (Lambert) dress up like robots as they taken by human pal Vick (Rinehart) to meet tech expert Charlotte (Seaton-Hill) and visit an electronics company run by the scientist Roland (Boike). Attacked by a gang of scrap rebels, they all become lost on a remote island hideout, where the bears end up travelling with robotic-enhanced warrior bear Ursa (Khourshid), who reminds the brothers of their long lost mother and has been forced into a mission by maniacal rebel leader Leonard (also Boike) and his scrap-metal army.
Opening with a flashback that shifts abruptly from heartwarming to harrowing, the film continually cuts back to Bramble and Briar's life as cubs, reframing their story as they struggle in the years following their mother's disappearance. This past feeds into their manic present-day encounters with various robots and cyborgs. In between these colourfully kinetic action set-pieces, there are gentler narrative moments that tap into sentimental feelings. And the plot takes some surprisingly dark turns along the way.
Because it's largely set on this junkyard island, the film has a clanky metallic vibe, playing on the interaction between the characters' skin, fur or steel. While some of the animation looks cheap and cheerful, other sequences are dazzlingly well-designed with light, textures and vivid hues. This adds interest to a story that veers wildly from one contrived event to the next, shifting from heroics to villainy as things build to a series of cataclysmic climaxes.
As the title suggests, the central theme revolves around protective instincts that swirl through the various characters, even without needing to be written into their programming code. Briar and Bramble need to learn that their mother wouldn't have abandoned them by choice, and along the way they are put through the wringer emotionally. Meanwhile, the "team up to save your friends" message becomes comically absurd in the mass destruction of the rock-n-roll finale. But there's plenty of eye-catching, over-the-top entertainment along the way.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Marianna Dean
scr David Trotti
prd Zoe Cunningham, Marianna Dean, Paul Desira
with Neil Bishop, Zoe Cunningham, Martin Bishop, Zed Josef, Jonny Phillips, Marcia Lecky, Simone McIntyre, Alexis Cane, Tope Laguda, Reece Culver, Simone Gillmore, Abby Hinsley
release UK 2.Jun.23
Is it streaming?
Produced in the brightly pacey style of a mid-budget TV series, this British thriller quickly grabs the attention with its mysterious time-hopping premise and an engaging lead character. Because it unfolds through the discovery of relatively simple puzzle pieces, it's enjoyable to look for a bigger picture. So even if scenes sometimes feel underpowered, and the contortions of the story never quite resolve themselves, there's plenty of compelling interest.
Waking up after a fiery accident that he can only barely remember, scientist Liam (Neil Bishop) is in a state of confusion. Doctor Emma (Cunningham) tells him he has partial amnesia from an electromagnetic explosion. But his injuries come and go, and he occasionally wakes up on an isolated heath, where an old man (Martin Bishop) offers enigmatic advice before he witnesses the end of the world. So Liam begins working with Emma and their colleague Garret (Josef) to retrace the time travel experiment that went wrong. And their boss Carter (Phillips) is demanding answers.
As Liam bounces around in time, he struggles to remember who he is and find a path to a non-apocalyptic future. As his mind continually plays tricks on him, director Dean is able to keep the audience in a state of curiosity. Sets are unfussy, and scenes are packed with clues about both the overall timeline and the trajectory of the narrative. So while it never quite feels possible to catch up with all the to-ing and fro-ing in time, there's a solid sense of dramatic urgency in Liam's effort to prevent the cataclysm.
With his action-hero physicality, Bishop has terrific screen presence, and his earnest confusion offers an involving path into the story. This gives him an open-faced honesty, so he's easy to root for, even if his connections with the people around him never quite come into focus due to the structure. Cunningham has plenty of brainy charm, even if Emma is never terribly convincing as Liam's love interest. And both Josef and Phillips add some quirks to their more traditional genre-style roles.
Discussions about the effects and possibilities around time travel and the dangers of messing around with quantum states add some intriguing textures, even if they tend to remain on the surface. And as the overall story begins to reveal itself, there are a few rather unsurprising twists and turns, including the emergence of a villainous masterplan. So even though there isn't enough complexity in the cast or situations to properly bring this to life, this is entertaining escapism.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Thomas Hardiman
prd Michael Elliott, Lee Groombridge, Louise Palmkvist Hansen
with Clare Perkins, Kayla Meikle, Harriet Webb, Lilit Lesser, Darrell D'Silva, Luke Pasqualino, Heider Ali, Nicholas Karimi, Debris Stevenson, Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Kae Alexander, John Alan Roberts
release UK 9.Jun.23,
22/UK BBC 1h41
Is it streaming?
With this cleverly deconstructed murder mystery, writer-director Thomas Hardiman takes us backstage in the fierce world of hairdressing competitions. With its astonishing extended-take structure, outrageous characters and a steady stream of surprises, it's riotously entertaining. And in the final act the story achieves some emotional resonance in very unexpected places. Since it's also perhaps a little loud and busy, this has all the hallmarks of a cult classic.
Veteran hairdresser Cleve (Perkins) is sure that her latest concoction will win the top prize in this contest, but she faces stiff confident competition from rising star Divine (Meikle). As they assemble their vertiginous creations in their dressing rooms, they are shaken by news that rival stylist Mosca (Roberts) has been murdered. And scalped. Rene (D'Silva) calls Mosca's partner Angel (Pasqualino), who arrives in tears with their infant son. But rumours are swirling about Mosca's recent fling with Turkish security officer Gac (Ali). And both Kendra (Webb) and Patricio (Karimi) are on the warpath.
Ace cinematographer Robbie Ryan's camera uses a long snaky shot to follow this bustling ensemble as they scuttle from room to room, down long corridors, up and down stairs, out onto the street and up into the fly-space over the stage. Because each person's energy and attitude is intense right from the start, the film becomes an exhilarating thrill ride that swoops from jagged comedy to earnest emotion to spiky anger. Yes, there are a few whiplash moments along the way, especially since much of this is filmed in close-up. But the way a larger picture emerges is hugely involving.
The approach also allows the larger-than-life characters to remain unusually authentic even with their exaggerated comical touches. Each actor has stand-out moments that are peppered throughout the spiralling narrative, building sympathy with the audience and revealing deeper yearnings. Pasqualino has the most over-the-top drama queen role, but caps it with a likeable spark. Ali gets to play some startlingly earthy scenes along the way, then take a starring role in the closing credits musical extravaganza. And Perkins steals the show with sheer bravado.
Through all of this, gossip is whispered that casts doubt on each character, providing both vivid back-stories and conjecture about whodunit. But Hardiman continually resists the usual structures, leading the audience headlong into a series of unexpected events and revelations. So while the filmmaking is technically breathtaking, its the deeper character moments that will linger, including a subversive comment on the competitive issues any artist faces.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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