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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 6.Oct.19

Masters of Love
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Masters of Love
dir-scr-prd Matt Roberts
with Ciaran Dowd, Sarah Ovens, Owen Roberts, Eleanor Fanyinka, Bekka Bowling, Lizzy Watts, Rosalind Adler, Steve Toussaint, David Alderman, Beattie Edmondson, Rose Johnson, Heather Long
release UK Jun.19 eiff
19/UK 1h25


roberts, dowd and ovens
This nicely made British comedy-drama centres on a group of people in their 30s going through the usual transitions in life while the world throws all kinds of messiness at them. The film playfully skewers current social situations, most notably the impact of technology on relationships. There's nothing particularly revelatory in here, but it's sharply written, directed and played. So it occasionally strikes a nerve.
In London, Samantha (Fanyinka) and photographer's assistant Emmy (Ovens) are planning their wedding and future together. Meanwhile, Emmy's brother Josh (Roberts) can't do anything without pausing to make a food-themed social media video, so it's no wonder that his girlfriend Jenifer (Watts) has already found a new man. So Josh moves in with his best friend Niall (Dowd). As Josh tries dating apps, Niall begins a fling with fellow struggling comic Lily (Bowling). And no one notices that Emmy is having second thoughts about getting married.
Director Roberts keeps the tone relaxed and offhanded, with playful interaction that's silly on the surface and pointed underneath. The characters feel like friends who have known each other for years, which allows actors to develop some nice rhythms between them. When disagreements arise, they sneak up on the characters and feel remarkably organic. As do the ways these friends playfully call each other on their flaws. On the other hand, the plot threads become rather melodramatic as the narrative develops.

Each of the actors is playing a normal person without any overwrought personality traits. The only time they get to chew the scenery is when their characters are drunk. Roberts has the most engaging role as the lively-messy Josh. By contrast, Dowd's Niall may be a standup comedian, but his sense of humour fails him at key moments. At least his impulsive sex life with Bowling's snarky Lily provides some laughs. The most complex role is Ovens' Emmy, who simply doesn't understand why she's feeling so unsettled.

As the film continues, it begins to feel like a pilot episode for a TV series, setting up the kinds of relational push and pull that can drag out over many episodes and seasons. Yes, this approach is rather soapy, throwing trouble simultaneously into friendships and romances so that everyone is down at the same time. Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows they'll work out the issues before the rather brief running time wraps up. Still, there are likeable beats in each storyline that keep the audience rooting for at least a couple of happy endings.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 27.Sep.19 rff

The Planters  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
The Planters
dir-scr Hannah Leder, Alexandra Kotcheff
prd Jacqueline Beiro, Hannah Leder, Alexandra Kotcheff
with Alexandra Kotcheff, Hannah Leder, Phil Parolisi, Pepe Serna, Michael Gmur, Milen Angelov, Phil Danyew, Jovan Adepo, Gary Werntz, Stacie Bongo, Phil Danyen, Lisa London
release UK Sep.19 rff,
US Oct.19 nff
19/US 1h19


kind, blackwell and policano
Quirky and colourful, this offbeat comedy-drama centres on an unlikely friendship between two women, played by filmmakers Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder. The movie is sometimes a little too nutty for its own good, but this also makes it refreshingly unpredictable. Scenes are short and sharp, with witty observations about day-to-day life in a place that's rather a long way from anyone's dream.
In an isolated desert community, Martha (Kotcheff) discovers Sadie (Leder), an escapee from a mental facility who has multiple personalities. Sadie enthusiastically agrees to help Martha with her planting business: burying treasure in a tin for her clients to find. Martha also works from home as a telemarketer flogging air conditioning units, and Sadie proves much better at selling than Martha. Then Martha's old friend Richard (Parolisi) turns up needing a place to stay. But the real question is why her clients have suddenly stopped paying.
There's not much in the way of plot; the film merely follows these two women as they get to know each other, which is perhaps the entire point. Martha has had a lonely life, and she's always wanted a sister. So she's happy to deal with Sadie's jarring personality changes. Meanwhile, Sadie is having oddly religious visions in Martha's tins, rendered in amusing stop-motion animation featuring the likes of Jesus, Moses and Noah. So she consults the local pastor Jesus (Serna), who thinks Martha has bad energy.

The contrast between these two actresses is striking. Kotcheff plays Martha with almost no expression in her face or voice, while Lefer's Sadie is a bundle of riotous positivity in three cheerful personalities, including the toddler Emma and the hard-drinking Angie ("Sadie leaves when she's feeling bad"). Together they are awkward and also on the same wavelength, complementing each other in intriguing ways. Meanwhile, Martha rather likes Richard because, as she says, "he's weird". Parolisi gives him a soulfulness that's engaging.

The film is packed with hilariously dry comedy, both visual sight gags and dialog that's laced with irony. In the final act, Martha's quest to find out who is emptying her tins takes a few strange twists, resulting in her own dramatic personality change. No longer impassive, she takes control of her life, finding the fierce warrior within. That this plays out in a bittersweet way is deeply refreshing, complete with some tender emotions. And it's notable that the actor-filmmakers maintain their unhinged tone even when things get serious.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 27.Sep.19 rff

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr-prd Aki Omoshaybi
with Aki Omoshaybi, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Karen Bryson, Amy Manson, Kola Bokinni, Amanda Lawrence, Taye Matthew, Ben Tavassoli, Tori Butler-Hart, Suzette Llewellyn, Roshawn Hewitt, Matthew Butler-Hart
release UK Oct.19 lff
19/UK 1h16

london film fest

bennett-warner and omoshaybi
There's an everyday authenticity to this British drama, capturing very present-day pressures on normal people who are trying to get their lives in forward motion. Actor-filmmaker Aki Omoshaybi has created a warm, involving spin on the kitchen sink tradition. While the situations are grim, the people in this film are very easy to identify with, especially as they're so relentlessly likeable.
Struggling to find work in Portsmouth, Kyle (Omoshaybi) finds an unexpected spark with Jamie (Bennett-Warner), letting her believe that he's a solicitor. And she also lies about having a job. In reality, Kyle has nowhere to live, and is begrudgingly allowed home to stay with his hyper-religious mother Bola (Bryson). Jamie, meanwhile, is a single mother just out of rehab, caring for her 7-year-old son Felix (Matthew) as she searches for decent work. Eventually, she comes clean to Jamie, and of course he doesn't care, continuing to pretend that his professional life is just fine.
The interaction between these two is nicely played and very sweet, even as both make mistakes, jump to conclusions and try a little to hard to pretend that all is well. Their issues feel very grounded in reality, even if they occasionally tilt into some trite crime-movie scenarios, such as the interaction with Kyle's drug-dealing but religious-acting neighbour (Bokinni), who Bola seems to favour over her own son. There are also two massive coincidences in the plot, which might have been more believable if the story was set in a much smaller town.

Performances are easy and relaxed from the two leads, who refreshingly never try to force any deeper meaning into their roles. This makes them much more sympathetic. Omoshaybi has a charming screen presence, so it's easy to see why Jamie would fall for Kyle, then struggle when she learns that he's been lying to her. Bennett-Warner brings some yearning grit to Jamie that makes her a tough, fascinating young woman. And both actors have terrific chemistry with lively young actor Matthew.

Omoshaybi also keeps things nicely under control as a writer and director, avoiding anything flashy or overtly preachy. This is simply a gentle story about two people whose lives have become stuck, as past traumas continue to play havoc with their ability to move on. Watching them come together then fall out essentially gives the film a romantic-comedy structure, and indeed there's never any doubt where it's headed. But it's very easy to hope that these two people get at least one break. They certainly deserve it.

cert 15 themes, language 12.Sep.19

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