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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 9.Mar.24

Bleeding Love  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Bleeding Love
dir Emma Westenberg
scr Ruby Caster
prd Mark Amin, Christine Vachon, Clara McGregor, Vera Bulder, Greg Lauritano
with Clara McGregor, Ewan McGregor, Kim Zimmer, Devyn McDowell, Vera Bulder, Jake Weary, Sasha Alexander, Travis Hammer, Willard Runsabove, Kristin K Berg, Eve Kozikowski, Jacob Browneh
release US 16.Feb.24
23/US 1h36

Is it streaming?

clara and ewan mcgregor-jarrett
Real-life father and daughter Ewan and Clara McGregor play an estranged father and self-destructive daughter in this lively and very emotional road movie. Director Emma Westenberg maintains a loose vibe that keeps things fresh while the screenplay manipulates an awkward relationship between two people who no longer know each other very well. The camera casually observes details in each scene, and along the way things get very bleak indeed.
Driving across the American Southwest in a gas-guzzling pickup, an unnamed man (Ewan McGregor) is trying to help his unnamed daughter (Clara McGregor). He is removing her from her addictive lifestyle, hoping to get her back on track as a painter. Now sober, he understands her pain as she goes through withdrawal, not that she'll let him see it. On the road, they meet several colourful people who spark a range of feelings. And the key fact is that the father isn't the person the daughter knew all those years ago. And neither is she.
This man hasn't been much of a father, so doesn't exactly command respect from his daughter. It isn't exactly helpful that he keeps reminding her that she's lucky to be alive after her last overdose, and she certainly doesn't want to attend an addiction group meeting. Rehab is out of the question. Flickers of flashbacks to happier days many years ago add some nice textures. Although the arc of the central relationship feels carefully structured to a screenwriting formula, it continually touches on moments of truth.

Ewan and Clara McGregor create a wonderfully spiky chemistry between this cynical dad and free-spirited daughter. They continually push each others' boundaries, and also reveal deeper layers of concern for each other along the way. So while their connection is often antagonistic, it is textured with underlying emotion that's unusually complex. The fact that they had much happier days many years ago almost feels like a painful memory, as it reminds them what went wrong.

It seems perhaps a bit tidy that the problems in this relationship were caused by the parent's addiction, and now they are grappling with the child's similar journey. And most of the serious elements in the script feel very sharply pointed in ways the rest of the film doesn't. This shift between earthy realism and more heightened melodrama is sometimes jaggedly awkward, but the McGregors play each scene with raw honesty.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Feb.24

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
dir-scr Anthony Bawn
prd Rich Wolff, Susan Helfrich, Anthony Bawn, Bentley Bawn
with BJ Minor, Brett Sturgis, Leilani Smith, Gian Ibarra, Brentley Bawn, Jarick White, Dueal Andrews, Dre Matthews, Ernest Harden Jr, Frankie Blair, Jennipher Lewis, Donta Morrison
release US 20.Feb.24
23/US 1h10

Is it streaming?

With its homemade aesthetic, this horror thriller is a bit too awkwardly structured to properly come together. While a prolog and epilog offer some chilling context, the movie feels oddly incomplete, as if the crew ran out of time to finish both individual scenes and the final edit. But filmmaker Anthony Bawn does know how to pull the viewer in with a mix of comedy, emotion and thrills.
Workaholic emergency room surgeon James (Minor) is heading off for a relationship-rescuing weekend with his cop boyfriend Owen (Sturgis) and friends in Palm Springs. But James is unnerved by the violent murder of his mentor (Harden) before they leave. On the getaway, their friend Julian (Andrews) stirs trouble as he documents everything for social media and flirts with Owen. Then the killer (Ibarra) strikes in their midst, and things turn seriously nasty. It turns out that the murderer has a connection to James' hospital, and a local waitress (Smith) knows more than she's letting on.
Jarringly loose editing makes things somewhat confusing, even if the plot itself isn't very complicated. A general lack of nuance leaves scenes feeling unfinished, never quite getting under the surface, as scenes are shot in ways that only partially capture what's happening on-screen. This is mainly due to budget constraints, but there is also a timidity in the way the story is told, as if the cast and crew were worried about depicting anything with upfront candour. So while we're intrigued, we struggle to get involved in the connections between these people.

All of this makes the performances feel rather broad, never quite deepening the characters enough for the audience to engage with them. Most are likeable simply because they're sexy and a bit silly, and they become more interesting as more meaningful plot points come their way. But it's difficult to work out what Bawn is trying to say here, as the mix of nuttiness and grisliness never seems to add up to something more substantive. There are solid moments along the way, so the movie will entertain viewers who enjoy genre films. But it would need to be a lot more textured than this to pull us in.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 6.Mar.24

Late Night With the Devil  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Late Night With the Devil
dir-scr Colin Cairnes, Cameron Cairnes
prd Mat Govoni, Adam White, John Molloy, Roy Lee, Steven Schneider, Derek Dauchy
with David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi, Ingrid Torelli, Rhys Auteri, Georgina Haig, Josh Quong Tart, Steve Mouzakis, Paula Arundell, Tamala Shelton, Michael Ironside
release Aus Jun.23 sff,
US/UK 22.Mar.24
23/Australia 1h33

london film fest

Is it streaming?

Torelli, Auteri, Dastmalchian, Gordon and Bliss
Snappy and sharply well-made, this film is set up as a long-lost broadcast. It's packed with knowing details, an unusually astute pastiche that's funny and very creepy, anchored by a superbly textured performance from David Dastmalchian. Expanding on rumours from the period, filmmakers Colin and Cameron Cairnes playfully infuse the plot with both humour and darkly unnerving nastiness. And it's thoroughly entertaining as it reaches its outrageously bonkers climax.
Amid social unrest, political scandal and news reports about satanic cults in early 1970s America, the late-night chat show Night Owls with Jack Delroy (Dastmalchian) becomes hugely popular, but by 1977 is trailing in the ratings. Still grieving the death of his wife and muse Madeleine (Haig), Jack stages a live Halloween episode that centres around the occult. Guests include mysterious medium Christou (Bazzi), who receives a terrifying vision on-air, and the abrasive sceptic Carmichael (Bliss). Then things escalate when parapsychologist author June (Gordon) arrives with 13-year-old Lily (Torelli), who may still be demon-possessed.
Opening with a scene-setting mini-doc, the film cleverly establishes the period, with the lively TV world set against a sinister woodland cult. What follows is the fateful episode, complete with behind-the-scenes clips showing what happened during the ad breaks, as Jack tries to address the growing chaos with his longtime producer Leo (Tart), who sees this as ratings gold. And then there's Jack's befuddled sidekick Gus (Auteri), whom the overconfident Carmichael uses to prove his point in an extreme way.

Performances are committed and naturalistic, even as various characters engage in exaggerated behaviour. At the centre, Dastmalchian anchors everything with a remarkably open-handed turn as the curious, engaging Jack. His journey through this existential experience becomes epic in nature, and Dastmalchian keeps even the most absurd moment grounded in real feelings. Everyone around him is terrific as well, while Torelli adds some wonderfully heightened eeriness as the troubled teen, blaming the craziness on her imaginary friend Mr Wriggles.

Videotape flickers, jittering sounds and terrific visual effects add to the increasingly nutty atmosphere, which is punctuated by moments of hilariously deadpan comedy. The filmmakers carefully expand on the freak-out elements, inventively linking plot points until things head completely off the rails for a mind-bending final sequence. Where all of this goes is surreal and utterly unhinged, but underlying emotions and references to urban myths and media commercialisation add so much knowing subtext that this deserves to become a cult favourite.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 7.Mar.24

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