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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 17.Apr.24

Hard Miles  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Hard Miles
dir RJ Daniel Hanna
prd Christian Sander
scr RJ Daniel Hanna, Christian Sander
with Matthew Modine, Cynthia Kaye McWilliams, Jahking Guillory, Jackson Kelly, Damien Diaz, Zachary T Robbins, Sean Astin, Leslie David Baker, Emily Kincaid, Jenna Doolittle, Jaxon Goldenberg, Judah Mackey
release US 19.Apr.24
23/US 1h48

Is it streaming?

diaz, robbins, guillory, kelly and modiine
Based on real events, this inspirational tale follows a man who sets out to instil a sense of respect, discipline and camaraderie between a four thuggish teens in spectacular scenery across the American Southwest. With nicely offhanded dialog and engaging characters, the film holds the interest even though it's clear from the start where it's heading. So while there are edgy, humorous touches, it's ultimately a warm, fuzzy story.
From a troubled background himself, Greg (Modine) now works in a Colorado reform school, while dealing with physical issues, a dying father and imprisoned brother. As officials urge a harsh approach, Greg proposes that his four shop students (Guillory, Kelly, Diaz and Robbins) build their own bikes and ride 762 miles with him to the Grand Canyon. His boss Skip (Baker) authorises it, and colleague Haddie (McWilliams) reluctantly agrees to pilot the support van. He also secures sponsorship from his bike repairman (Astin). But can Greg teach these rebellious boys to work as a team?
As they traverse this extreme geography, Mack Fisher's cinematography captures grand views alongside big physical and emotional feelings characters must grapple with. Even with the Hollywood-style plot, the naturalistic dialog adds authenticity to the interaction between boys who use bravado to protect themselves. Of course, Skip is worried that this challenge will put too much pressure on already fragile kids. And Greg has his own journey, wrestling with his past and present. Eventually they all begin to have some fun together.

Guillory, Kelly, Diaz and Robbins are terrific as very different kids whose tough exteriors keep them from connecting with each other. It's never in doubt that hanging out in the great outdoors will nudge them to open up about rough experiences they've survived. Modine provides a complex anchor to the story in the tenacious, troubled, tough-loving Greg. And his tetchy interaction with McWilliams' sardonic Haddie is enjoyable. But ultimately, the movie is about the boys.

Each of the guys takes his own journey through this story; some are more resistant than others, but all have to decide to do this for themselves. This message is laid on thickly, without ambiguity. So while there are plenty of moments that are comical or even a bit rough around the edges, the film is still relentlessly optimistic in the way it explores the positive impact of discipline and determination, building to the expected, genuinely enormous feel-good climax.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 16.Apr.24

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Luna Carmoon
prd Loran Dunn, Helen Simmons, Andrew Starke
with Saura Lightfoot Leon, Joseph Quinn, Hayley Squires, Lily-Beau Leach, Samantha Spiro, Deba Hekmat, Ceara Coveney, Cathy Tyson, Sandra Hale, Nabil Elouahabi, Alexis Tuttle, Sam John
release UK 17.May.24
23/UK BFI 2h06

london film fest

Is it streaming?

lightfoot leon and quinn
There's plenty of visual style and bold, expressive filmmaking on display in this intense British drama, but the movie feels oddly elusive as it swirls through its repetitive and overlong narrative. The loose storytelling prevents the story from providing a badly needed emotional kick. But watching it is still a remarkably unsettling experience. This is a striking first feature from the talented Luna Carmoon, packed with vivid performances.
In 1980s South London, young Maria (Leach) lives with her colourful mother Cynthia (Squires) in a house cluttered with piles of random rubbish. Their life together is full of imaginative happy fantasies, but Maria's offbeat persona makes her an outsider to students and teachers at school. After an accident, she is taken under the wing of foster mother Michelle (Spiro), then several years later (now Lightfoot Leon) Maria lives it up with her best pal (Hekmat). But when another of Michelle's kids, Michael (Quinn), returns home for an extended visit, Maria's balance begins to shift.
With an unnerving soundscape and whispery-mumbled voiceover, Carmoon establishes an oppressive vibe even before the first shot appears on-screen. Nanu Segal's cinematography is dark and saturated, vividly capturing the shadows and textures of Cynthia's cluttered home and Maria's haunted imagination. And then there's the behaviour of these characters, each of whom has a dark side that's eerily unsettling as it plays out in the way they interact with each other. Meanwhile, the narrative takes an anecdotal structure that gives the film an eerily autobiographical tone.

Performances are invested and full-on, as each of these people has a big personality. At the centre, Lightfoot Leon has terrific presence, a young woman with something imperceptible on her mind. Watching her give in to her more macabre urges is frightening, most notably as she begins to echo Squires' notably pungent, show-stopping turn as Cynthia. Quinn is also excellent in a difficult role as the conflicted Michael, who clearly has edgier instincts than his sweet girlfriend (Coveney) can imagine.

All of this is so sharply assembled that its insularity becomes increasingly frustrating. Aside from the general situation, Maria's experience is singular, so it's difficult to identify with her. And Carmoon seems uninterested in inviting the audience in, which leaves the film feeling somewhat indulgent, especially as it spirals in circles in its second hour. That said, the film does have some offbeat things to say about mothers and daughters, especially in what each one passes on to the other.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 7.Feb.24

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir-scr Noora Niasari
prd Noora Niasari, Vincent Sheehan
with Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Selina Zahednia, Osamah Sami, Leah Purcell, Jillian Nguyen, Mojean Aria, Rina Mousavi, Eve Morey, Bev Killick, Lucinda Armstrong Hall, Nicole Gulasekharam, Jerome Meyer
release Aus 5.Oct.23,
US 1.Dec.23, UK 2.Aug.24
23/Australia 1h57

london film fest
afi fest

Is it streaming?

zahednia and ebrahimi
Striking authenticity echoes throughout this Australian drama, conveyed through camerawork, editing and the impressively naturalistic, emotionally open performances. Loosely written and tightly directed by Noora Niasari, the film is an involving look into the life of an abused woman and her young daughter whose nationality adds to their precarious situation. It's a riveting story, packed with moments that are tense, sweet and sometimes a bit too emotional.
In a battered women's shelter, Shayda (Ebrahimi) wants her young daughter Mona (Zahednia) to have as normal a childhood as possible. From Iran, Shayda came to Australia with her husband Hossein (Sami) to study, but left him when he became violent. Now she's navigating red tape to extricate herself from her marriage, but Hossein insists that he owns her. He also gains visiting rights with Mona. Meanwhile, Shayda's friend Elly (Mousavi) introduces her cousin Farhad (Aria), but Shayda isn't able to even think of moving on when the furious Hossein seems to be lurking everywhere.
Most scenes play out in slice-of-life ways that reflect the story's autobiographical roots, as women and children in the shelter sometimes clash but largely support each other through extraordinary situations. So the film shifts between darker drama and also lively celebrations that reflect the various home cultures. Most powerful is how Shayda wants Mona to connect to her Iranian roots, but she knows that things need to shift if they are going to escape this situation. As a first step, Shayda bravely decides to cut her hair.

In virtually every shot, Ebrahimi delivers an earthy, relaxed performance as a woman on the edge. Her attentiveness to Mona is powerfully involving, and she has terrific chemistry with young Zahednia, whose expressive reactions reveal underlying fear sparked from witnessing her father's physical aggression. Because both of these performances ripple with so much deep-seated pain, they pull the audience in with unusual intensity. This also makes the joyous celebratory moments that much more engaging.

Indeed, Niasari includes several exuberant sequences in which characters can freely express themselves through dance. This includes traditional Iranian numbers and also parties and nightclubs. The freedom in these moments is exhilarating, in sharp contrast to Shayda and Mona's claustrophobic, conflicting and sometimes overstated emotions relating to Hossein, a man unable to see the problems in his harsh religious beliefs. In this way, the film is an important cry for safety for women who live in places where they have to silently accept belittlement and worse.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Feb.24

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