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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 14.Jul.19

Division 19  
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
Division 19
dir-scr SA Halewood
prd Suzie Halewood, Diane Kasperowicz, Christina Varotsis
with Jamie Draven, Linus Roache, Alison Doody, Will Rothhaar, Lotte Verbeek, Clarke Peters, Toby Hemingway, L Scott Caldwell, Ashton Moio, Anthony Okungbowa, Tim Jo, Jennifer Soo
release US 5.Apr.19,
UK 21.Jun.19
18/UK 1h33

rothhaar and draven
Slick and stylish, this British thriller is set in a future that feels eerily current. The camerawork and stunt-based action look cool, even with the jittery editing and hokey score. But filmmaker SA Halewood neglects to build characters or a coherent narrative to draw the audience in. She has fun creating the world these people live in, but never quite gets beneath the surface.
In 2039 being anonymous is a crime. So convicted felon Hardin (Draven) is a star from his prison cell, watched day and night while preparing for cage fights. Surveillance boss Neilsen (Doody) and government leader Lynden (Roache) both have big plans for him in their experimental city Newtown. But rebel group Division 19 plots a rescue. They also want to teach people to live off the grid, and to bring the government back under the law. Once he's outside, Hardin discovers that he needs to go back in to rescue his little brother Nash (Rothhaar).
The film mainly consists of a series of blunt action set-pieces that are big on attitude and nicely staged, but never add up to create a sense of the story's momentum. So even with a short running time, the movie feels rather long. The chain of events is convoluted and choppy, and it's so densely packed with mythology that the premise itself becomes a blur. Sequences like Hardin's escape from custody are inexplicable, as are his connections with outsiders like hot redhead Aisha (Verbeek) and salty veteran Perelman (Peters).

Draven is solid as the haunted tough guy at the centre of the story, hardened by his years being exploited in jail, quickly learning the tricks to avoid detection (including that cliche of cliches, a floor-length trenchcoat). Roache lends the film some gravitas, effortlessly giving his rather simplistic baddie some fascinating layers. And Doody delivers great menace. Sadly, there isn't quite enough of the charismatic Rothhaar and Hemingway (as a rebel leader).

In some ways, this feels like a TV series that has been whittled down to movie-size, as intriguing characters appear and are oddly sidelined. And it's packed with twists that go nowhere. The idea of a society run by advertisers is a great one, but Halewood's script uses the idea without actually grappling with it. Audiences who don't care about things like plot or character might still enjoy the film's look and feel. But with even a slight sense of focus, it could have been a lot more than this.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 18.Jun.19

Giant Little Ones  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Giant Little Ones
dir-scr Keith Behrman
prd Allison Black
with Josh Wiggins, Darren Mann, Taylor Hickson, Kyle MacLachlan, Maria Bello, Niamh Wilson, Kiana Madeira, Hailey Kittle, Peter Outerbridge, Stephaniea Moore, Olivia Scriven, Carson MacCormac
release US 1.Mar.19,
UK Mar.19 flare
18/Canada 1h33

flare film fest

mann and wiggins
There are some strikingly powerful elements in this Canadian teen drama, which explores youthful sexuality in a complex, thoughtful way, boosted by solid acting across the board. In the film's middle section, writer-director Keith Behrman dips into some trite melodrama and cheesy plotting that threatens to derail the entire story. Thankfully, he puts it back on track for a series of genuinely powerful moments in the final act.
As he turns 17, Franky (Wiggins) is a normal kid on the swim team. With his best friend Ballas (Mann), they are exploring sex with girlfriends (Kittle and Madeira) while enjoying drunken parties and the usual teen antics. Then Franky and Ballas have a sexual encounter that freaks both of them out, unraveling their friendship and causing issues at school. Franky's mother (Bello) and estranged gay dad (MacLachlan) try to help, but it's Ballas' outcast sister Tash (Hickson) who offers Franky a chance to work out how he really feels about all of this.
Behrman's approach is refreshingly nuanced, allowing for unexpected turns in relationships that bring the story's themes into focus. He also cleverly shifts the tone from smiley and happy to darkly questioning as things progress. The only problems arise with the evasive treatment of the central incident. Since both boys know what happened, withholding it from the audience is a violation of the point of view. And suddenly putting us on the outside makes the subsequent angsty interaction feel rather corny before the more intimate perspective reasserts itself in the final act.

All of the actors are terrific, with finely textured performances from Wiggins and Mann, whose close-then-messy friendship feels bracingly authentic and easy to identify with. Side characters are also strong, with excellent scenes for Bello and MacLachlan, a provocative and meaningful turn from Hickson, and some wonderful scene-stealing from Wilson as Franky's intrusive tomboy classmate. The actors particularly shine when delivering dialog that feels unforced and natural, which often makes what they say feel revelatory.

So it seems like a shame that Behrman loses his grip on the main body of the film, as events get jarringly simplistic and overwrought, characters behave irrationally and the script and direction continually sidestep what's actually going on. The closing scenes between Franky and his parents and friends are so good that the film is definitely worth a look, especially as it encourages young people to stop worrying about labels and focus on the people you love. And of course those who love you.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 25.Mar.19

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr William McGregor
prd Hilary Bevan Jones, Tom Nash
with Maxine Peake, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Richard Harrington, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Gwion Glyn, Jodie Innes, Mark Lewis Jones, Richard Elfyn, Dyfrig Evans
release UK 19.Jul.19
18/UK BFI 1h28


peake, worthington-cox, innes
Relentlessly bleak, this dark drama has strong currents of horror as it recounts a story from 19th century Wales. It's fiercely well put together by writer-director William McGregor, beautifully shot in what are clearly harsh conditions, and acted with a fine sense of internal turmoil by the gifted women who lead the cast. It's never easy to watch, and it's often frightening or grotesque in its elemental approach.
It's the mid-1850s and, while her husband is at war, Elen (Peake) is struggling to keep the small family farm running, growing root vegetables and raising sheep. Her teen daughter Gwen (Worthington-Cox) is taking over more responsibility, including watching out for the younger Mari (Innes). But the local quarry owners are encroaching on their land. Neighbours have been pushed out, sometimes killed off by cholera. And now this fragile family seems to be coming under attack. When Elen begins to have epileptic fits, Gwen feels like she has no choice but to take charge.
McGregor floods the screen with atmospherics, including vivid imagery by cinematographer Adam Etherington and moody music by James Edward Baker. Elen's farm is almost overpoweringly gloomy, with foreboding clouds and lashing rainstorms as the miners chip away at the hills. The very few moments of happiness come as the sisters play childish games in the mountains or in their candlelit room. But their mother has little time for joy in any form, trapped in desperate survival mode.

The story is told through Gwen's eyes, and Worthington-Cox delivers a powerfully layered performance as a young woman who does what she knows she has to do. Her steely will and emotional fragility are vividly well-played, adding a jagged kick to her scenes with Peake, as a relentlessly disapproving mother. Thankfully, Peake is allowed to soften the character a few times along the way, because she's otherwise unbearably harsh. And life is so brutal that it's impossible not to wonder why she is hanging in here so tenaciously.

The film's grim tone is sometimes overwhelming, making the viewer wonder why this story is being told at all. And since the drama is so downbeat, it's the thriller aspects that grab hold. McGregor creates real tension right from the start, stirring in scary images and sounds that build a gnawing sense that something terrible is coming. This puts the audience right into Gwen's shoes, seeing all of the things that could potentially jeopardise life in this place. Indeed, violent things happen incrementally, playing on deep fears to chill us to the bone.

cert 15 themes, violence 4.Apr.19

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