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|Shadows off the beaten path|
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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 2.Aug.19|
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Jaki Bradley
scr Ramon O Torres
prd Matthew Silverman, Ramon O Torres, Nadia Zoe
with Ramon O Torres, Sheldon Best, Myles Clohessy, Larry Owens, Gabriel Sloyer, Ryan Harden, Henry Ayres-Brown, R Ward Duffy, Ben Hargrave, Marc Sinoway, Byron Clohessy, Jordan Geiger
release UK Mar.19 flare,
US Jun.19 fff
This low-key mystery thriller stirs up some decent atmosphere as it focuses on a group of secretive men at a beach on Fire Island. Director Jaki Bradley and actor-writer Ramon Torres create cleverly enigmatic characters, all of whom have something to hide. But they withhold far too much from the audience, leaving us on the outside looking in. And it's frustrating that we can't get more involved in anything that's happening on-screen.
Leaving his office early, Joseph (Torres) heads to Fire Island in the vague hope of finding love. He's too early for the season, so it's pretty deserted. But he's chatted up by a handsome stranger who drugs and mugs him. In a daze, he thinks he witnesses a murder before being rescued by the friendly Cameron (Best), whose best friend Rafael (Clohessy) is struggling with a bad breakup. Friends Shane and Anabi (Owens and Sloyer) cheer everyone up with a series of parties, but Joseph begins to suspect that maybe he did see something nefarious.
The premise is never terribly convincing, simply because questions about Joseph are never addressed: he has no back-story (and literally no baggage), and reacts suspiciously about everything. But the filmmakers focus on Rafael's drunken wallowing instead of the conflict that drives the plot. The problem is that the script simply isn't clever enough to deploy suspicion or red herrings. It merely bounces along on the surface, piling on disconnected plot points.
The actors make it watchable, nicely underplaying their roles and developing intriguing angles of chemistry between them. Torres' Joseph is far too passive and vague, which may be the point but leaves the audience struggling to engage with him. Best is more magnetic, adding some nice nuance in Cameron's connections with both Joseph and Rafael. And Clohessy brings a haunted, pained quality to his performance that makes him perhaps the most interesting person of all, even as it becomes clear that no answers are forthcoming.
The growing tension holds the interest, and the film is very nicely shot in beautiful and sometime haunting locations. The actors are also particularly beautiful. But the script and direction stubbornly refuse to give anything else to the viewer, leaving story threads dangling and undefined, then offering sexual moments that are almost comically idealistic. These elements continually undermine what should be a tense, involving little dramatic thriller. By being so elusive, Bradley never manages to get anything cooking.
No Chocolate, No Rice
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-prd Leo Christopher Sheridan
scr Donovan Trott
with Ricky Mempin, Donovan Trott, Danielle Green, William Cadena, Polly Kreisman, Vic Sorrell, Miles Folley, Kyle Merker, Garon Wade, Shawn Michael Morris, James Tison, Joseph Yates
release US 1.Feb.19
Made on a very low budget, this lively comedy is undergirded with a big issue, exploring the impact of racial profiling on the dating scene. The script includes broad discussions that dig into the obvious themes, plus angles that most people would never have thought about. These kinds of things more than overcome the low-fi production values, creating characters and situations that are both funny and engaging.
In Washington, DC, Dre (Mempin) is growing tired of his Asian-obsessed friend Monty (Merker), while his promiscuous flatmate Phil (Trott) wants to stop seeing guys who are only into him because he's black. And their waitress friend Monique (Green) decides she's done dating for good. So Dre proposes that they stop seeing white men altogether, betting the rent on who can hold out longest. What follows is a series of dirty tricks as they try to sabotage each other. And amid a flurry of temptation, the hot, white Aaron (Sorrell) moves in next door.
Director Sheridan's inexperience shows mainly in the father scrappy photography and sound, plus a cheesy underscore. And Trott's script needed serious tightening. But there's so much potential throughout that the movie easily holds the attention, finding resonance in each moment of interaction. And there are sharp points too. For example, Dre's prickly boss (Kreisman) at a gay dating app argues that the option to limit match-ups by race is equal-opportunity, while Dre sees it as encouraging racial division.
The actors have a relaxed, easy authenticity, never overplaying the comical moments, no matter how ridiculous some scenes get. Mempin and Trott are charming, easy to identify with as they interact with a range of guys. The friendship between them is effortless, and they spend so much time together talking about the central themes that it's hard not to see this as a romantic comedy. Enjoyably, the side characters shake this up, including Sorrell's nice guy Aaron, who has his own story.
While the plot is relatively silly, it offers opportunities to play with bigger ideas. Actor-writer Trott may have worked every conceivable angle into the script, but all of it has resonance. For example, an Indian guy (Wade) criticises Dre for not being interested in his ethnic heritage, but Dre was born in America and has never particularly wanted to travel. And Phil finds it difficult to resist anyone who shows interest, especially if they're paying him as a masseur. So the film's best kick is in the close bond between these two men.
The Operative Die Agentin
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Yuval Adler
prd Jean Labadie, Yuval Adler, Viola Fugen, Michael Weber
with Diane Kruger, Martin Freeman, Cas Anvar, Liron Levo, Ohad Knoller, Arie Tcherner, Rotem Keinan, Yohanan Herson, Kate Nichols, Doron Tsabari, Vladimir Friedman, Yaakov Zada Daniel
release US 2.Aug.19,
BERLIN FILM FEST
There's a whispery intensity to this unflashy spy thriller, which weaves together a series of flashbacks to reveal its convoluted plot. This askance approach is a little alienating, leaving scenes feeling oddly disconnected, even when they're not. Thankfully, writer-director Yuval Adler cleverly subverts the usual cliches of a spy movie; the film has all the usual set pieces, but they play out in ways that feel unnervingly real.
When Mossad agent Thomas (Freeman) gets an enigmatic call from Rachel (Kruger), an operative he used to handle, he's pulled into some sort of international situation. After she vanishes, Thomas retraces his previous work with her, as she was sent undercover to Iran as a language teacher. She is assigned to watch Farhad (Anvar), an electronics company owner whose son is in her class. And she falls for him. Thomas is furious about this, but feels like he has no choice but to let her continue with her operation, which is called Business as Usual.
The story shifts between Leipzig, Tel Aviv, London and Tehran, maintaining Rachel's perspective except in the framing scenes with Thomas raking over the coals of their working relationship. Her observant, casually efficient manner adds interest to her mission, her personal life and her meetings with Thomas. The scenes of violence in her work are particularly unsettling simply because they're played in such a quiet, understated style, allowing the audience to feel Rachel's emotions when things turn deadly.
Kruger is terrific in the central role, catching Rachel's effortlessness in her job. She's cool-headed and instinctual, even when out of her depth, and this clear-eyed approach is unusually engaging. By contrast, Freeman seems oddly distant, recognising Rachel's skill but lecturing her over things that raise questions, all while giving away nothing about himself personally. And Anvar brings a sophisticated charm to Farhad, a privileged man with a lot of presence and intelligence.
The way the film is structured prevents it from properly building a sense of momentum as an espionage thriller. But individual scenes have real power along the way, including some elaborate set-pieces that are expertly staged and filmed. All of the fragments of this film stubbornly take their time to create any sense of a bigger picture. The dramatic through-line is sharply depicted in the relationships Rachel builds with both Thomas and Farhad. The thriller aspect is less compelling, but has enough intrigue to make the movie stand out from the crowd.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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