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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 13.Mar.24

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr Luc Besson
prd Virginie Besson-Silla, Steve Rabineau
with Caleb Landry Jones, Jojo T Gibbs, Christopher Denham, Clemens Schick, John Charles Aguilar, Grace Palma, Marisa Berenson, Iris Bry, Lincoln Powell, Alexander Settineri, Michael Garza, Bianca Melgar
release Fr 27.Sep.23,
UK 11.Mar.24, US 29.Mar.24
23/France TF1 1h53


Is it streaming?

jones and friend
Another offbeat concoction from Luc Besson, this dramatic thriller is deliberately over-the-top as it works to provoke the audience. Not only is it loud and abrasively grisly, but the film dares to juggle religion, gender and social issues. It's an ambitious narrative that traces a young man's life as he emerges from terrible abuse. So despite an uneven mix of violence and emotion, its bonkers sensibility is utterly riveting.
In New Jersey, the wheelchair-bound Douglas (Jones) is pulled over by cops, who find his truck full of dogs. Police doctor Evelyn (Gibbs) is assigned his case, and he says that his dogs are his loyal companions. He also describes a hideous backwoods upbringing and determination to survive, becoming a champion for both stray dogs and people on the fringes of society, like a vigilante Robin Hood. Working from his lair in an abandoned school, he develops a vivid drag persona and runs afoul of both an insurance investigator (Schick) and a local gangster (Aguilar).
As Douglas describes his childhood, lurid flashbacks show him as a teen (Powell) punished for trying to help the dogs mistreated by his violent father (Schick) and vile brother (Settineri), who cruelly cage him with the family hounds. This helps him develop his canine affinity, allowing him to build up a large pack of well-trained mutts who act as his assistants and henchmen. He also finds life in his group home's theatre productions, starring opposite colourful counsellor Selma (Palma), upon whom he develops a crush.

Within the film's heightened atmosphere, performances are deadpan and relatively understated. Jones delivers another fully committed performance as a guy who is fiercely intelligent but deeply damaged. He is breathtaking in various scenes throughout the film, including mesmerising stage performances as Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich. And his ice-cool demeanour opposite Gibbs' likeably curious, empathetic Evelyn adds some superb nuance.

Besson frames Douglas as an anti-hero whose superpower is communicating with his faithful pooches, using them to carry out elaborate heists and exact revenge against anyone who wrongs him. So instead of actually digging into the bigger issues the story raises, everything builds to the usual hyper-gruesome climax. That said, it's staged with plenty of style and played with snappy energy by a terrific human and canine cast.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Mar.24

The New Boy
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The New Boy
dir-scr Warwick Thornton
prd Cate Blanchett, Lorenzo De Maio, Georgie Pym, Kath Shelper, Andrew Upton
with Aswan Reid, Cate Blanchett, Deborah Mailman, Wayne Blair, Shane McKenzie-Brady, Tyrique Brady, Kyle Miller, Tyler Rockman Spencer, Laiken Beau Woolmington, Kailem Miller, Tyzailin Roderick, Peter Jupiter
release Aus 6.Jul.23,
UK 15.Mar.24
23/Australia 1h36

london film fest

Is it streaming?

blanchett and reid
Zeroing in on the horrific Australian government policy to "breed out the black", in which the church separated indigenous children from their culture, gifted filmmaker Warwick Thornton recounts a powerfully involving tale with a spark of magical realism. It's a beautiful film with an often stunning attention to detail, grounded performances and an almost painterly visual sensibility. And the film becomes important as it makes us feel uncomfortable.
In the 1940s, when a 9-year-old boy (Reid) is captured in the desert, he is bundled into a sack and delivered to an isolated orphanage that is run defiantly by the sparky Sister Eileen (Blanchett). With no name, and largely without speaking, this boy elicits curiosity from the other boys, as well as their wary respect. The cook Sister Mum (Mailman) and handyman George (Blair) take him under their wings. And everyone begins to notice that there's something extraordinary about this new boy. But they can't tame his hair, let alone his nature.
Thornton's visceral cinematography captures the wild-west nature of rural Australia using textures and vibrant shades of rust, accompanied by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' evocative score. Seen through the eyes of this observant young boy, church rituals feel utterly alien, from singing hymns to mealtime prayers. With the men off to war, the boys are put to work repairing walls, harvesting olives and pressing oil. And 13-year-old Johnny (Spencer) is sent away to a full-time job.

Underplaying scenes skilfully, each actor finds deeper meaning. Reid is absolutely riveting on-screen, barely changing his expression or speaking but conveying a huge range of thought and emotion with his entire physicality. Blanchett is fully invested as usual, making Eileen a rebellious and remarkably unfussy force of nature. So the way this boy challenges her feels earth-shattering. Both Mailman and Blair also add knowing perspective to their roles, while the other boys fill in scenes with superbly telling touches.

Where this story goes is fascinating and provocative, continually challenging the audience to consider the underlying ideas swirling around within the narrative. With his intimate connection to the land, this boy has a lot to teach these European interlopers if they're sensitive enough to pay attention. So his intensely focussed reaction to the chapel's new life-sized crucifix feels like an unnervingly human revelation. Eileen thinks she needs to save this lost boy, regardless of what might be lost in the process.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 12.Mar.24

State of Consciousness  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
State of Consciousness
dir Marcus Stokes
scr Guillaume Tunzini, Dikran Ornekian, Rylend Grant
prd Silvio Muraglia, Andrea Iervolino, Monika Bacardi, Harry Finkel
with Emile Hirsch, Tatjana Nardone, Kesia Elwin, Robin Mugnaini, David Wurawa, Michael E Rodgers, Gaia Scodellaro, Jane Alexander, Joy Libardoni, Yoon C Joyce, Mariano Di Vaio, Lara Pictet
release It 19.Jan.23,
US 15.Mar.24
22/Italy 1h41

Is it streaming?

hirsch and iervolino
Opening with a slow-burning sense of menace, this Texas-set psychological thriller is enjoyably bonkers and played with conviction. Shooting in Italy and Guatemala, director Marcus Stokes deploys slick camerawork and jittery editing to keep the audience on edge. But the fractured narrative begins to feel repetitive, overpacked with pointless violence. And knowing that it's likely to pull the rug out, it's difficult to trust this kind of movie.
Set up for murder, Stephen (Hirsch) is sent to a mental hospital for evaluation by Dr Fielder (Elwin). But it seems that 18 months passes in the literal blink of an eye. And when his girlfriend Alicia (Nardone) takes him home, he begins worrying that reality is slipping. As the spiralling, shifting events become increasingly bewildering, Stephen is menaced by a seemingly imaginary vengeful biker gang. But he refuses to go back to the hospital. Or maybe he never left. All the pills seem to do is switch him from one reality to another.
A wide range of freak-out experiences flicker through Stephen's mind, and it's impossible to know which of these represents what's actually happening. One strand involves him having something plugged into the back of his head in a hospital bed, another features a devastating rainstorm, and he also finds himself in a small Latin American village. Cutting between them is intentionally jarring, and also rather frustrating as the truth resists coming into focus. By the time the script gets around to sorting things out, we've stopped caring.

Hirsch gives a full-bodied performance as a man who is struggling to know what is real and what isn't. While his main facial expression is one of confusion, he pulls us into the story and adds some emotional resonance up to a point. Others are less defined, as they continually shift through Stephen's confused point of view. This offers several big moments along the way, but eliminates the complexity that might have made each momentous event compelling. Instead, scenes feel a bit empty or even corny.

Eventually, a series of explanations reveal the facts about Stephen's situation, and it feels somewhat anticlimactic as it involves several sudden changes in personality and lots of rather absurd twists. It's also far less interesting than the suggestive subtext. All of this makes it difficult to maintain sympathy with anyone on-screen. And it eliminates anything under the surface that might make the story resonate on a deeper level.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 12.Mar.24

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