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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 12.Sep.23

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Clement Virgo
prd Damon D'Oliveira, Sonya Di Rienzo, Aeschylus Poulos, Clement Virgo
with Lamar Johnson, Aaron Pierre, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Kiana Madeira, Lovell Adams-Gray, Sebastian Nigel Singh, Jacob Williams, Maurice Dean Wint, Alsseny Camara, Mazin Elsadig, Franco Lo Presti, Dwain Murphy
release US 4.Aug.23,
UK 15.Sep.23
22/Canada 1h59


Is it streaming?

johnson and pierre
Grappling with important issues in a way that's strongly emotive, this film quickly pulls us into its story about the children of immigrants in suburban Toronto. It's beautifully filmed and acted with real passion by an excellent cast. But writer-director Clement Virgo ties the narrative in knots by fragmenting it into three periods, losing dramatic momentum and connection in the process. But it's still moving and powerful.
Since his father left, young Francis (Williams) has taken care of his over-worked Jamaican mother Ruth (Blake) and little brother Michael (Singh). Later as teens, Francis (now Pierre) coaches Michael (now Johnson) into being cooler, tougher and more aggressive amid school bullying, violence in the community and brutality from the cops. And a decade after Francis' death, Michael has taken over this job, watching over his still-grieving mother. Then his teen girlfriend Aisha (Madeira) returns to visit. She tries to help Ruth find healing, but Michael doesn't want to let go of his own anger.
With so many important ideas woven into the narrative, viewers will find their own catharses, even if the film is very bleak. Shifting between three timelines, Virgo strains to link high and low points, framing the story as teen Francis and Michael daringly climb an electricity tower. This adds a sense of peril, although it overwhelms several of the more vital issues the events raise. This includes one pivotal detail that is oddly brushed aside when it might have created some badly needed nuance.

Johnson and Pierre both deliver hugely charismatic performances with very different styles. It's easy to see why people gravitate to Pierre's beefy, talented Francis, a dynamic charmer. And Johnson's thoughtful Michael has terrific chemistry with Blake's brightly engaging Aisha. Johnson has harder scenes to play as Michael turns over-controlling in the later plot thread, grappling with his own harsh internal thoughts while refusing to listen to anyone else. This makes him rather unlikeable, which isn't easy to watch.

While key issues of police racism and poverty-driven criminality surge throughout the story, the main thrust of the film is a recognition of the sheer determination and hard work put in by immigrant parents who put their own lives aside to give their children a boost in life. So of course their expectations are high, and their disappointments are devastating. The one missed trick here involves Francis and his musical collaborator Jelly (Adams-Gray), a barely depicted relationship that hints at something much more resonant.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 11.Sep.23

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr Alex Kahuam
prd Alex Kahuam, Marco De Molina, Kayli Fortun, Ted Raimi, Jose D Rodriguez
with Ted Raimi, Noel Douglas Orput, Merrick McCartha, Melissa Diaz, Daniel Kuhlman, John Paul Medrano, Spencer Langston, Ernest Cavazos, Joe Barra, LeVar Michael, Christin Muuli, Alex Sands
release UK Aug.23 frf
23/US 1h28


Is it streaming?

medrano and raimi
Full of witty touches, this crime thriller is shot in a single, prowling take as an already dodgy situation spirals even further out of control. Writer-director Alex Kahaum keeps things moving briskly, with colourful characters entering the frame of skilful cinematographer Ernesto Lomeli's camera. The film is talky and repetitive, with personal scenes more engaging than business ones, but it's anchored by a riveting turn from Ted Raimi.
As his daughter's wedding approaches, James (Raimi) is about to lose the factory that's been in his family for generations. With his dad's ghost (Orput) goading him, he endures the wedding preparations with the groomsmen and younger daughter Maria (Diaz). Meanwhile, various associates are threatening him to sell the business to pay his debts. And in order to seal a solid deal, James needs to meet with top boss Mr Serge (McCartha) and his sidekick Robert (Michael). But other people are on their way to clean up the mess. Or maybe create a new ones.
This is an outrageously momentous day for James, as the script adds constant wrinkles and complications. Seeking more time, he locks longterm employee Michael (Medrano) in the closet. Maria is annoyed that James hasn't met her serious girlfriend. The desperate Alvar (Kuhlman) holds James at gunpoint demanding something he can't deliver. A hulking thug (Cavazos) appears to tie up loose ends. And questions remain about what happens next, after James comes to the end of his rope and regretfully takes a lifeline.

For such a heightened, intense situation, the performances are relaxed and enjoyably nuanced as the balance of control shifts. Raimi is terrific as a man who barely breaks a sweat or raises his voice, even when he's pushed into harrowing corners. He certainly isn't afraid to get his hands dirty if needed, and he's holding out for a better deal. So it's fascinating to watch him overthink everything. And the people who orbit around him are equally level-headed, calmly menacing as they go about their business.

Maria reminds her dad that there's been a world financial crisis: "This isn't your fault". But with various families in jeopardy, everyone needs their money right now. And James calmly conducts these negotiations with his family legacy and his children in mind. The fact is that he's a failed company owner drowning in debt, and he won't admit it. So the way the story churns into the nail-biting final scene has a snappy bite of irony to it.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.Aug.23

That’s a Wrap  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5
That's a Wrap
dir Marcel Walz
scr Joe Knetter, Robert L Lucas
prd Joe Knetter, Marcel Walz, Sarah French
with Cerina Vincent, Monique T Parent, Sarah French, Gigi Gustin, Robert Donavan, Adam Bucci, Ben Kaplan, Eve Marlowe, Sarah Polednak, Brandon Patricio, Steve J Owens, Robert L Lucas
release US Aug.23 pfff,
UK Aug.23 frf
23/US 1h34


Is it streaming?

So meta that it's virtually a pastiche, this horror comedy continually references both scary movies and the moviemaking process itself. Director Marcel Walz keeps things moving, but the uneven pacing reveals the inexperience of the cast and crew. Still, the idea is strong enough to sustain the film through its rather long rough patches. As does the mix of witty red herrings and a playful use of expectations.
It's the night of the wrap party for the slasher horror movie That's a Wrap, which writer-director Mason (Donavan) believes is his masterpiece. He only invites 10 cast members to attend, including his actress wife Lily (Parent). But someone is lurking in the shadows dressed as the film's killer, taking out actors in outrageously camp ways. Most of these actors have crushes on a costar, which adds a spark to what is otherwise a rather dull party. But they keep wandering off on their own, and in most cases a grisly death awaits them.
In the prolog, Alexis (Vincent) opts to skip the party because she was only in the beginning of the movie. We can guess what's about to happen. Running gags abound, including a witty comment on the increasingly bonkers Amityville franchise. The killer's platinum blonde wig and murderous ways come are straight out of Hitchcock's filmography (two murders riff on Psycho's shower scene). And there's an overstated giallo reference. A knowing line about actresses who go nude telegraphs the expected scene. And each murder is gleefully hyper-violent.

Performances are broad and never remotely believable. Kaplan is almost subtle as the lovelorn Carter, while Owens and Patricio have some queer fun flirting with deeper character details. Donavan's Mason is so smarmy we hope he'll get it next, while Parent's long-suffering Lily finally speaks her mind, going way over the top in the process. The leery camerawork on Marlowe's extended naked scene crosses a line. And the cliches and stereotypes are so thinly written that they border on offensive.

There are some clever moments in which the script plays with the realities of filmmaking, plus the singular pressures actresses face on-set. But the most outrageous moments are cheap gags. The narrative plays out in a relatively expected way, with a flurry of twists that lead to the requisite climactic confrontation. "And I'm guessing you have a monolog prepared," growls final girl Harper (French). Yes, it's extremely corny, but also a guilty pleasure.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 22.Aug.23

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