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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 30.Jan.24

Blue Giant  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5   MUST must see SEE
Blue Giant
dir Yuzuru Tachikawa
scr Number 8
prd Katsuhiro Takei, Eri Isobe, Mikito Bizenjima
voices Yuki Yamada, Shotaro Mamiya, Amane Okayama, Yusuke Kondo, Mirei Suda, Sayaka Kinoshita, Kenji Nomura, Shinya Takahashi, Masayuki Kato, Yutaka Aoyama, Hidenobu Kiuchi, Hiroki Tochi
release Jpn 17.Feb.23
US 8.Oct.23,UK 31.Jan.24
23/Japan NUT 2h00

Is it streaming?

yukinori, dai and shunji
Based on a popular manga, this animated odyssey is exhilaratingly animated to a wonderful jazz score by Hiromi Uehara. It's a familiar story of a small-town teen hoping to make it big in the city, and director Yuzuru Tachiksawa allows songs to play out in their entirety. This may give the film an extended running time, but when the music kicks in, the animation goes to a dazzling new level.
At 18, Dai (Yamada) is determined to become one of the greatest jazz musicians in the world, practicing the saxophone with extreme dedication. He leaves his hometown for Tokyo and crashes with his friend Shunji (Okayama), quickly wearing out his welcome. So he finds a job. In a jazz bar, he meets pianist Yukinori (Mamiya), who shares his passion and is impressed by his raw talent. When they team up, Dai brings in Shunji on percussion, a novice with potential. So now the challenge for this young trio is to get noticed by someone.
There's a staggeringly intense sequence in which Dai pours his entire life into playing the sax for Yukinori for the first time. And the band's debut public performance is equally momentous, as is their first large performance, opening for an established band at a festival. All three of these teens are beautifully developed, each with his own journey into music. Scenes are loaded with discovery, while their interaction is livened up with sparky humour. And the narrative takes a series of significant turns.

Dai is likably impulsive with an infectiously outsized obsession for jazz, so when he plays the film becomes transcendent. Yukinori is just as confident in his talent, but more experienced as a musician. He has his own perspective, determined to play at Tokyo's top jazz club So Blue while still in his teens. But he's afraid to take a chance with improvisation. And Shunji brings enthusiasm and sheer determination to the group that he names by mistake.

The journey these three young men take is by no means smooth. They hit wall after wall, but pursue their dreams even when others tell them to stop. The film beautifully captures the power of live performance, the passion and intensity woven into the fabric of jazz, and most impressively the way they pour their life experiences into their art. So the key for each of them as they develop as musicians is to bare their souls. This is bold, thrilling, powerfully moving storytelling.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 29.Jan.24

Fireworks   Stranizza d’Amuri
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir Giuseppe Fiorello
scr Andrea Cedrola, Giuseppe Fiorello
prd Eleonora Pratelli, Riccardo Di Pasquale
with Gabriele Pizzurro, Samuele Segreto, Simona Malato, Fabrizia Sacchi, Antonio De Matteo, Enrico Roccaforte, Roberto Salemi, Giuseppe Spata, Raffaele Cordiano, Giuditta Vasile, Anita Pomario, Alessio Simonetti
release It 23.Mar.23,
US 19.Jan.24
23/Italy Rai 2h14

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segreto and pizzurro
Beautifully capturing the landscapes and culture of early 1980s Italy, this drama creates an unusually textured portrait of a community, with a range of fascinating people, interconnections and dark tensions. Expanding on true-life events, filmmaker Giuseppe Fiorello takes his time building this world with an attention to detail, creating complex characters and situations that speak to a specific time and place while also resonating strongly today.
In 1980 Sicily, 17-year-old Gianni (Segreto) has become numbed to constant homophobic bullying from the men in his small town, including his stepfather (Roccaforte), who owns the garage where he works. Withdrawing into himself, he meets the friendly, curly headed Nino (Pizzurro), a recent high school graduate who works with his father (De Matteo) staging elaborate fireworks displays in neighbouring villages. Escaping his stepdad, Gianni joins Nino in staging fireworks shows. As they spend more time together, they begin to develop a close friendship that shifts naturally into a romance. But the gossip becomes vicious.
Family life here is sparky and colourful, as everyone speaks their minds as they talk about everybody else. And at the village cafe the men gather to perform idiotic stunts before mercilessly taunting Gianni. While the film's running time is very long, this allows Fiorello to add textures to the families, such as a general obsession with football. And the social situation surrounding two sensitive teens emerges with real emotional power. This is a quietly churning depiction of endemic hatred and fear.

Segreto and Pizzurro are charming as Gianni and Nino, two cheeky guys who aren't afraid of hard work and simply want to enjoy their lives. They put their youthful physicality fully into these busy roles, and their first kiss is a moment of amusing tenderness. By contrast, Malato and Sacchi play their mothers as women who have hopes for their sons while understanding the peril they will face. The whole ensemble creates earthy, vivid characters that pull us deeply into the story.

There are gorgeous moments of longing peppered throughout this film, as both Gianni and Nino hope against hope for a world where they can be themselves. While this may be a period piece, the attitudes it depicts are very much present-day in most of the world. So when the tone shifts, the film's final half hour becomes harrowing to watch, as it seems like everyone loses their minds. This makes the film a rallying cry against hiding yourself away from the world.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 16.Jan.24

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir Manuel Abramovich
scr Manuel Abramovich, Fernando Krapp, Pio Longo
prd Gema Juarez Allen, Rachel Daisy Ellis, David Hurst
with Lalo Santos, Diablo, Brandon Ley, Chacalito Regio, Delmar Ponce, El Brayan, Lothar Muller, Mauricio Alivias, Adrian Zuki, Juan Ro, Octavio, Turko, Netito
release US Jul.23 olff,
UK 29.Jan.24
22/Mexico 1h38

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Quietly observant with an underlying hint of yearning, this offbeat drama is set in the Mexican porn industry. Because the cast includes real pornstars, the film feels bracingly honest, never remotely sensational as it follows a young guy who's just trying to make a living and have some fun in the process. With striking camerawork, filmmaker Manuel Abramovich creates an involving portrait that's unflinchingly made for an adult audience.

In Oaxaca, Lalo (Santos) works in a mechanic shop, but is beginning to earn money on the side through social media, building a large following by posting naked photos and homemade porn. One day he spots a post from a film company looking for adult performers, so he goes for an audition. Soon he's on-set performing in a revisionist historical porn movie about Zapata and Pancho Villa. And now his feed begins to bring in some real cash. Initially, he enjoys interacting with his many new followers, but they are only interested in one thing.
Despite the title, the film is more thoughtful than depressing. Following Lalo's daily routines, the camera watches as he goes to work, snaps his photos, visits a doctor for a blood test, exercises in the gym, calls his mum and cruises for random sex. His shop colleagues chat about their wives and grown children, wistful that Lalo is still free and single. But sex is a matter-of-fact part of his day, neither lusty nor romantic, basically the only thing Lalo wants to do with his spare time.

Because this is shot in a naturalistic, documentary style, Santos' performance feels refreshingly honest, his expressive face revealing deep thoughts in each situation. Lalo wants to earn a living in porn, but knows this is difficult in Mexico, so he studies English. One costar urges him to try escorting to earn more money. Another talks about how he only does this to help pay his mother's bills. When Lalo goes out on a date, things progress as expected, but there doesn't seem to be hope of something more, even if both are perhaps longing for it.

Adding to the character portrait is a musical interlude accompanying snapshots of Lula from infancy to adulthood, which is reflected in messages Lalo leaves for his mother, of course relating his film career in a very different light. With its honest exploration of elements from HIV to sex drives, the film remains remarkably grounded in the real world, never straining to create a contrived plot. This may leave it feeling a bit aimless, but it's a fresh and skilful look at someone who has chosen this life, watching closely without judgment.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality, violence 29.Jan.24

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