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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 24.Sep.23

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir Prasanna Puwanarajah
scr Stacey Gregg
prd James Bierman, Nik Bower
with Seana Kerslake, Patrick Kielty, Joanne Crawford, Julian Moore-Cook, Paul Mallon, Lloyd Hutchinson, Ryan McParland, Chris Corrigan, Conor MacNeill, Curtis-Lee Ashqar, Gemma Hutton, Adele Gribbon
release UK 22.Sep.23
22/UK BFI 1h29

Is it streaming?

kielty and kerslake
A low-key comedy from Northern Ireland, this film has wonderfully edgy charm as it follows two broken people through a meandering series of events. Director Prasanna Puwanarajah captures the situation with bracing authenticity, while writer Stacey Gregg sends the characters in rather grim directionsn. But there's a vivid sense of the internal fire within people who simply can't accept that this is all life has to offer them.
Working as both a taxi driver and barista, Eileen (Kerslake) is trying to earn money to move back to London. She has a weekly gig driving Shane (Kielty) from small-town Ballywalter into Belfast for his stand-up comedy class, and over these 40-minute rides they begin to get to know each other and open up. Both of them have serious issues in their personal lives, so this drive is a chance for them to escape. The question is whether they can encourage each other to face the real world around them with honesty and hope.
In their own ways, Eileen and Shane are trying to plot a course to a better life, but attitude issues continually cause problems. This is especially true for Eileen, who is simply unable to hold her tongue. And Shane is so frustrated with life that his comedy isn't remotely funny. While there are key plot points along the way, the narrative doesn't have much momentum, gently rolling through a variety of scenes that paint a bigger picture of two people who feel stuck in this corner of the world. And the conversations between Eileen and Shane remain both fresh and pointed.

Like a blast of fresh air, Kerslake's bristling presence makes this film thoroughly involving, as she reveals Eileen's internal thought processes with unapologetic emotion. Opposite her in his dramatic debut, Kielty infuses his scruffy charm with internalised pain. Their chemistry is awkward and intriguing. And the people around them add colour and texture to each scene, including some intense outside pressure that spurs their decisions.

A couple of montages of comedy students attempting stand-up offer a lovely sense of how most comedy comes from a place of pain. Shane suggests that Eileen drinks less, nudging her to look at how she parties to get away from what she sees as failure. Both of them understand that they have disappointed those they love, and their only response is to laugh before they start pushing each other to step up. This makes the film a sensitive and never sentimental exploration of mental health and healing.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 19.Sep.23

The Old Oak  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5   MUST must see SEE
The Old Oak
dir Ken Loach
scr Paul Laverty
prd Rebecca O'Brien
with Dave Turner, Ebla Mari, Claire Rodgerson, Trevor Fox, Chris McGlade, Col Tait, Jordan Louis, Chrissie Robinson, Chris Gotts, Jen Patterson, Joe Armstrong, Alex White
release UK 29.Sep.23
23/UK BBC 1h53


Is it streaming?

turner and mari
Ken Loach and Paul Laverty once again take an unflinching look at the English psyche, this time highlighting the deep-seated racism and xenophobia that are delivered with hideous foul-mouthed vitriol right after the words "I'm not a racist, but..." or "I don't mean any disrespect, but...." Shot in a remarkably loose, authentic style, the film ultimately offers a glimmer of hope that is presented here as a challenge.
In 2016, Syrian refugees arrive in northeast England, having lost everything in their civil war. The Old Oak pub owner TJ (Turner) and his friend Laura (Rodgerson) help move them into vacant homes. But pub regulars snarl bitterly, blaming them for their problems. TJ reaches out to bright young Syrian Yara (Mari), an aspiring photographer who is waiting for news of her father. Inspired by pictures of the community from the miner's strikes, she suggests setting up a free lunch programme for poor families in the village. But the men take exception to this too.
Unfolding in slice-of-life vignettes, the film feels fresh and unrehearsed, revealing attitudes between the lines. This includes the compassion TJ feels toward people who simply need a friendly face. So the bond he builds with Yara and her family is powerfully inspiring. By contrast, the attitudes of the men are hideously ugly, never exaggerated and eerily echoed in thoughtless teens and impressionable boys. Although the youngsters can still see the truth, and can become agents of change if adults lead by example.

These kinds of issues arise without being pushed, as the actors deliver raw, honest performances. Turner is excellent as TJ, a man worn down by years of pain and frustration. He doesn't see that helping others offers him a reason to live until that's jeopardised. His honest father-daughter relationship with Mari's smart, open-hearted Yara is beautifully played, leading to warm and tough interaction. And the supporting cast fills in a whole town full of bracingly complex, believable people.

Loach and Laverty have zeroed in on a bleak side of British society. As one person notes, this is one of the wealthiest nations on earth, but average people can barely afford to feed themselves. And poor people are on the verge of oblivion, which sparks fearful attitudes and actions. The racism on display here is flat-out horrific, and it's also something those of us living in England have become used to hearing. TJ has learned to be silent around these comments. But he begins to realise that silence is part of the problem.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 12.Sep.23

Relax, I’m from the Future  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Relax, I'm from the Future
dir-scr Luke Higginson
prd Tim Doiron, James van der Woerd
with Rhys Darby, Gabrielle Graham, Julian Richings, Janine Theriault, Zachary Bennett, Louisa Zhu, Marye Barton, Peter Valdron, John Cleland, Amanda Barker, Cyrena Fiel, Kristen Kurnik
release US 22.Sep.23
23/Canada 1h34

Is it streaming?

graham and darby
Snappy and silly, this lively comedy has a likeably free-wheeling vibe. It's wacky story unfolds with intriguingly random details, but writer-director Luke Higginson clearly has some sort of plan, like his hapless protagonist. It's a madcap farce that spirals increasingly out of control, which makes it a lot of fun to watch. And while there are some startlingly serious moments along the way, it never gets very deep.
Arriving from the distant future, Casper (Darby) is questioned about his generally chaotic behaviour, but assures everyone not to worry because there is a plan. When Holly (Graham) asks him to prove it, he does, showing her how to make money using his knowledge of what will happen. Then Casper introduces her to Percy (Richings), who will apparently become a world famous artist posthumously. He's part of Casper's mission to save the world. And he also needs retiree Betty (Barton) and the over-thinking Chuck (Bennett). But murderous time cop Doris (Theriault) is on Casper's trail.
Whatever Casper is up to, he's extremely intentional about it, creating a bunker in the woods and wiring up a bunch of microwaves while keeping his eye on Percy. The story's various threads remain fascinating, even as we wait for them to come together in some sort of meaningful way. But it's a mystery why Casper is doing any of this, and the script has some fun with the lack of clarity. Meanwhile, the humour ranges from astoundingly absurd to very dark indeed, while the pace quickens and the volume of the dialog increases. This makes the final act feel more than a little frantic.

Ace veteran Kiwi comic Darby has a breezy goofiness that makes Casper endearing, always up to something and far too easily distracted. But his relentless optimism adds a bounce to the entire film. Graham makes Holly a likeable presence, dragged into the mayhem while building her self-confidence and taking a more proactive role in whatever Casper is up to. Richings adds offbeat texture that becomes more interesting as Percy finds himself in the middle of the craziness.

Increasing time-travel shenanigans let the narrative spiral off in various nutty directions as the "mushy blob of reality" congeals and continues on its way. The script works overtime to plug holes in loopy plot, but Higginson never makes much of the underlying themes about personal worth and purpose. It's consistently witty, with plenty of offhanded references and high-energy humour that continue right to the very end. But it's also somewhat inconsequential.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 18.Sep.23

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