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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 12.Aug.19|
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Ben Medina
prd Vincent Cardinale, Jaime Roberts, Ben Medina, Lathrop Walker
with Lathrop Walker, Tabitha Bastien, Helena Grace Donald, Michael Winters, Mahria Zook, Vincent Cardinale, Bruce Weech, Obren Milanovic, S Joe Downing, Michael Place, Jon King, T Ivan Winkler
release US 9.Aug.19
There's a darkly over-serious tone to this slick but clearly low-budget hitman thriller that makes it feel both cheesy and indulgent. It's nicely shot, with some edgy intensity, but writer-director Ben Medina's hammy dialog lets the film down and leaves the actors looking somewhat awkward. And because everything is played without even a hint of irony, the story strains to come to life in a meaningful way.
A ghost-like assassin, Michael (Walker) has escaped his dangerous life to live in peaceful isolation with his pregnant girlfriend Abby (Bastien). Then he gets a call saying that the group that trained and deployed him knows where he is. To protect his family, Michael must figure out who they are and why they insisted that he make no personal connections, demanding blind loyalty. But each answer he gets only seems to drag him in deeper. Everything is linked to his mysterious father figure Mulray (Winters) and a conspiracy that gets deeper the further he looks.
There's a solid idea undergirding the story (revealed at the very end), but the plot's shape is obscured as the film flickers between multiple periods, intercut in a way that muddles rather than clarifies. It doesn't help that that the woman in Michael's swirly loved-up past (Donald) looks just like Abby, or that the ageing makeup is rather ropey. Meanwhile, grim twists in both timelines are confusing instead of revelatory. And Medina stubbornly refuses to identify any surrounding characters.
The actors simply aren't experienced enough to make this kind of unnatural dialog work. Medina directs them to deliver blunt lines with steel-eyed earnestness, which accentuates the problem. At least they all look great on-camera. But even the actors' rare natural moments are shot with an archness that avoids any sense of realistically earthy interaction. Walker is the only performer who gets away with this, because he's playing such a psychologically stunted man. And he's better in scenes that rely on physicality rather than words.
There's some technical expertise in the film's crew, most notably cinematographer Duncan Cole, who makes the most of light, shadow and colour. But Medina assembles scenes with a slack pace that feels oddly halting, and the parallel timelines are cut together without much narrative connection. All of which makes it increasingly impossible for the audience to engage with either the intrigue or the emotions. So as Medina stretches this into an epic-style vengeance thriller, it feels increasingly distant.
The Last Tree
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Shola Amoo
prd Myf Hopkins, Lee Thomas
with Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Nicholas Pinnock, Tai Golding, Demmy Ladipo, Tuwaine Barrett, Ruthxjian Bellenea, Rasaq Kukoyi, Jayden Jean-Paul-Denis, Ameen Mustapha, Yazzmin Newell
release US Jan.19 sff,
19/UK BFI 1h38
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Visual and emotive depth make this film worth watching, as it follows a boy's hesitant journey into manhood. Writer-director Shola Amoo relies mainly on imagery to propel the narrative, and this impressionistic approach to storytelling is emotionally engaging even if the details of the plot feel undercooked. And it's so over-serious that it never quite seems truthful. But it's beautiful to look at, and the actors are superb.
In Lincolnshire, 11-year-old Femi (Golding) has an idyllic childhood with foster mother Mary (Black) and his school buddies. So when his mother Yinka (Ikumelo) returns to take him home, he feels like everything has been upended. Life in urban South London is tough, and Femi grows into a sullen 16-year-old (now Adewunmi) with a couple of thug-like friends (Kukoyi and Jean-Paul-Denis). And now local mobster Mace (Ladipo) wants Femi to work for him. With his grades slipping, he is inspired by a girl (Bellenea) he likes and a concerned teacher (Pinnock) to make some changes.
The film has a terrific sense of its settings, both small towns and big cities, playing on the contrast between sun-drenched farmland with boys playing in the mud and grimy streets full of drug addicts carrying weapons. Yes, these depictions aren't subtle, but they effectively catch a boy's perspective as he is wrenched from a comfortable life into something far more confusing, especially with his deeply religious mother blending Christianity with Nigerian folk beliefs.
Both Golding and Adewunmi have intense charisma as Femi, delivering complex performances that are based in their eyes. Each actor is likeable, drawing the audience into Femi's journey. And Adewumni has the added task of keeping the viewer on-side even as Femi dabbles in dicey behaviour, lying to people close to him and indulging in criminality and violence. That we never give up hope for him is remarkable, perhaps due to Ikumelo's unusually textured turn as his harsh but caring mother.
There's such a strong emotional pull to this film that the narrative choppiness never becomes a problem. But Amoo skips past quite a few events, never quite defining side characters (even with a glimpse of his family life, Mace is little more than a stereotypical heavy). And the story leaps through a few awkward transitions, including the jump to the final scenes in Lagos, which are gorgeously shot in askance style. In other words, the film is beautiful to look at, and is often moving, but it also feels somewhat incomplete.
One Last Night
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr-prd Anthony Sabet
with Rachele Schank, Luke Brandon Field, Brian Baumgartner, Ali Cobrin, Kelly Stables, Jenna Willis, David Moscow, Tessa Freberg, Wendy Worthington, Kristine Nicolopoulos, Mark Reininga, Colin Hill
release US 16.Aug.19
Quirky storytelling gives this low-budget dry comedy an enjoyably light tone. A knowing rom-com about two people in their late-20s, the movie is playful and rather thin, as writer-director Anthony Sabet selectively mixes cliches with more inventive character-based humour in essentially one setting. It's a nice mix of solid filmmaking and bright performances, so it becomes increasingly enjoyable as it goes along.
After meeting on a dating app, bookshop clerk Zoe (Schank) and British writer Alex (Field) go out to watch a movie at a decidedly offbeat neighbourhood cinema. But at the end of the show, they find themselves locked inside when the only employee (Cobrin) leaves, while the taser-wielding security guard (Baumgartner) has fallen immediately asleep. They raid the snack bar for dinner, then make some popcorn and figure out how to run the projector so they can watch a short film. But there are surprises in store as they get to know each other.
This first date is clearly doomed from the start, as Zoe isn't expecting much and Alex has a secret agenda relating to the short, which is bizarrely projected from actual celluloid. Line-art animation whimsically illustrates various thoughts and ideas, such as Zoe's scorecard of pros and cons about Alex's foppish Britishness. She also admits to the ironic fact that she once worked in an escape room, which becomes one of the movie's repeating motifs, as does tic-tac-toe.
The characters are relatively straightforward, and each could do with some more texture. That said, Schank relaxes into the role with sarcastic charm, while Field remains blithely witty. Their dialog is jaunty and superficial, sharing opinions and jokes until finally shifting to recount their stories. And the way things spiral out of control is played with an offhanded sense of humour that's both engaging and unexpected. Both Cobrin and Baumgartner have much more cartoonish characters, but find moments of silly fun along the way.
The film has several good ideas in it, and the characters are intriguing, but Sabet doesn't quite pick up anything and run with it. Revelations and plot turns add a playfully jokey tone, including a subtle running gag about what's needed to lure people out of their homes and into a cinema. But there are lapses in logic (they never think to call for help using a phone, for example, and how can Zoe afford her loft apartment selling books and designing T-shirts?). So while there's not much to the film at all, it's brief and funny enough to keep a smile on the face.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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