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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 15.Nov.23

The Kitchen  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
The Kitchen
dir Kibwe Tavares, Daniel Kaluuya
scr Daniel Kaluuya, Joe Murtagh
prd Daniel Kaluuya, Daniel Emmerson
with Kane Robinson, Jedaiah Bannerman, Hope Ikpoku Jnr, Teija Kabs, Ian Wright, Demmy Ladipo, Cristale, Lola-Rose Maxwell, Henry Lawfull, Rasaq Kukoyi, Richie Lawrie, BackRoad Gee
release UK Oct.23 lff
23/UK Film4 1h44

london film fest

Is it streaming?

robinson and bannerman
Set in the near-future, this British film combines comedy, drama and thrills to explore the father-son connection between a man and a teen. It's a bit repetitive and takes its time getting to the point, but the characters are beautifully written and played, and the film is directed with understated skill by first-timers Kibwe Tavares and Daniel Kaluuya. Brimming with energy, it's engaging and entertaining, with a sharp point.
In 2040 London, Izi (Robinson) has taken up residence in the Kitchen, a huge squat in a decrepit housing estate. When he hears an old friend has died, he takes her teen son Benji (Bannerman) under his wing. But his aloof approach pushes Benji to the more engulfing embrace of a local gang of thugs who are taking on the police officers who are ruthlessly clearing people out of the Kitchen. The hitch is that Izi has earned a single-occupancy flat in a brand new development, but it's not big enough to bring Benji along.
Eye-catching cinematography by Wyatt Garfield is always in motion, and the effects evoke a futuristic London with understated Blade Runner-style touches. Izi works in a company that turns human remains into sprouting trees, which adds nuance to Benji's grief. And colourful Kitchen residents fill the screen with attitude, including Lord Kitchener (Wright), deejay on the in-house radio. Most of the others kind of blur around Izi and Benji as they hang out, then fight about something, then come back together.

Both Robinson and Bannerman have strong on-screen presence, so it's easy to root for them to get over whatever it is that's holding them back. Each has his own vulnerabilities, which he is trying to hide, and the actors play them with thoughtful openness even as the script conceals deeper things about them. This makes their cycles of wariness a bit tiring to watch. And because they remain so protective, their other connections never quite come to life.

While the plot is fairly straightforward, this is a beautifully constructed world, cleverly designed and full of energy. Because the Kitchen feels like a respite for those who have fallen through the cracks of an increasing rich-poor divide, it's easy to root for the scrappy residents banging their pots as masked, militarised police launch their violent assaults. Clearly, this isn't actually very different from the way things are today. And while the film doesn't make any direct political comments, these ideas gurgle very loudly under the surface.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 15.Oct.23 lff

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir-scr Welby Ings
prd Robin Murphy, Catherine Fitzgerald
with Tim Roth, Jordan Oosterhof, Conan Hayes, Abigail Laurent, Wesley Dowdell, Tom Clarke, Sage Klein, Wilson Downes, Connor Johnston, John Watson, Calvin Tuteao, Joshua Stubbing
release NZ Jul.22 nziff,
US Jan.23 psiff, UK 13.Nov.23
22/New Zealand 1h38

Is it streaming?

hayes and oosterhof
From New Zealand, this warm and introspective drama is beautifully shot and played with open-handed honesty by a solid cast. Writer-director Welby Ings makes the most of the setting's natural beauty and the toxic masculinity that oozes throughout the premise, both of which add layers to the characters. The story meanders a bit in the final act, heightening the tension. But the more engaging relational drama holds the attention.
Raised to be a fighter by his alcoholic ex-boxer dad Stan (Roth), muscled 17-year-old Jim (Oosterhof) is preparing for his first professional match. While running on the beach, he meets outcast Maori boy Whetu (Hayes), who lives in a shack there with his dog, and they bond over how much they hate this dead-end place. Openly gay, Whetu offers an alternative masculinity to the town's violent thugs, two of whom (Dowdell and Clarke) take over Jim's training. The question is whether Jim can overcome his fear and admit that he has strong feelings for Whetu.
Fed up with his father's controlling ways, Jim is desperate to escape from his shadow. And Whetu is also longing to move away so he can pursue a career as a gender-queer musician. With a chip on his shoulder, he is ruthlessly bullied by bigots at school and in town, including a horrific homophobic attack. As things progress, it becomes increasingly urgent that Jim will win his big bout so that both he and Whetu can get out of here.

Sensitive storytelling allows gifted, charismatic actors Oosterhof and Hayes to reveal terrific nuances in their characters. These two young men have big dreams that society seems intent on crushing. Hayes' more defiant Whetu courts peril by defiantly living his truth, which inspires Oosterhof's soulful Jim to make some decisions of his own. And Roth finds some lovely textures in the single-minded Stan, who perhaps isn't as cold-hearted as he looks.

Ings continually taps into the underlying emotionality in the story, leading to scenes that are powerfully moving without ever being sentimental. Even when later plot points threaten to send the film in both scary and maudlin directions, the tone remains gritty and honest. And on the way to the finely staged boxing climax, several pivotal scenes have a remarkable tenderness that's deeply affecting.

cert 158 themes, language, violence, sexuality 13.Nov.23

There’s Something in the Barn  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
There's Something in the Barn
dir Magnus Martens
scr Aleksander Kirkwood Brown
prd Kjetil Omberg, Jorgen Storm Rosenberg
with Martin Starr, Amrita Acharia, Townes Bunner, Zoe Winther-Hansen, Calle Hellevang-Larsen, Henriette Steenstrup, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Kiran Shah, Paul Monaghan, Alexander Karlsen El Younoussi
release US/Nor 10.Nov.23,
UK 1.Dec.23
23/Norway 1h36

Is it streaming?

starr, winther-hansen, acharia and bunner
More comedy than horror, this English-language Norwegian romp is enjoyably bonkers and fairly violent, but never remotely scary. Filmmaker Magnus Martens keeps the imagery very much in the family movie style, even as events take some nasty turns. Witty verbal and visual jokes fill each scene, augmented by a playfully goofy take on Nordic mythology. It's enjoyable while it lasts, but there's little more to it than that.
After his uncle dies in a freak accident, Bill (Starr) inherits his house in Norway and moves his family from California. His wife Carol (Acharia) is up for this, while teen kids Nora (Winther-Hansen) and Lucas (Bunner) are missing the beach. Then Lucas discovers a nisse (Shah), an elf living in the barn they intend to transform into a bed and breakfast. Neighbour Tor (Hellevang-Larsen) thinks Lucas is imagining this, but tells him to follow certain rules to avoid incurring a nisse's wrath. Sure enough, it's quickly riled up and going on a rampage.
Since barn elves hate noise and light, holding a get-to-know-everyone Christmas party in the barn is certainly a bad idea. And no one in the nearby town takes the escalating chaos seriously, especially not the hilariously sarcastic cop (Steenstrup). Meanwhile, Lucas is doing everything he can to befriend their nisse, but his kindness can't keep up with his family's oblivious antagonism. And as the holidays set in, an all-out war develops between the humans and the elves. Not everyone gets out alive, but it's fairly clear that we don't have to worry about the main characters.

Much of the humour comes from this over-talking American family blundering into a rather precarious Scandinavian social scene. Starr channels Chevy Chase as the gung-ho dad who is a bit too enthusiastic for his own good, including the epic Christmas decorations. His attempts to speak Norwegian are very funny, and Starr nicely bridges the silliness with the sentimentality as he bonds with Acharia, Winther-Hansen and Bunner, each of whom abandons their early spikiness fairly quickly.

These kinds of cliched story points keep the film from properly engaging the audience, as there is nothing much happening beyond what's right there on the screen. But the script is packed with clever observations and amusing interaction, and there's a lot of fun to be had in the absurdly ridiculous action sequences, which are staged for maximum explosive mayhem. So even if it feels predictable and pointless, the movie still keeps us smiling.

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

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