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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 3.May.20|
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Jeff Barnaby
prd John Christou, Robert Vroom
with Michael Greyeyes, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Forrest Goodluck, Kiowa Gordon, Olivia Scriven, Stonehorse Lone Goeman, Brandon Oakes, William Belleau, Kawennahere Devery Jacobs, Gary Farmer, Kent McQuaid, Natalie Liconti
release US/UK 28.Apr.20
TORONTO FILM FEST
With this unusually thoughtful zombie thriller, writer-director Jeff Barnaby draws on the history of Canada's indigenous community, stirring pungent historical echoes into the narrative. The title refers to the colonial system that determined a person's indigenous status, adding a provocative twist to the premise. Tension builds gradually, with quiet scenes interrupted by increasingly over-the-top grisliness. But the action set-pieces are more focussed on gore than either terror or coherence.
In an isolated Red Crow community in 1981, gutted salmon begin coming back to life, freaking out fisherman Gisigu (Goeman) and his sheriff son Traylor (Greyeyes). Meanwhile, Traylor and his nurse ex-wife Joss (Tailfeathers) are struggling to keep their hard-living sons Joseph and Lysol (Goodluck and Gordon) out of jail. And whatever is affecting the fish has clearly jumped to the human population, as people begin snarling, running and biting. Six months later, the town is an apocalyptic wasteland, and the fact that pure-blood Mi'gmaqs have a natural immunity is causing problems among the survivors.
Barnaby gives the film a B-movie sensibility, complete with extreme gore (chainsaw alert!) and animated sequences that nod to both historical art and comic books. The opening half-hour is fascinating, establishing the cultural issues between these characters before jumping ahead into what looks rather a lot like Mad Max-meets-Walking Dead. From here on, things become rather soapy, centring on repetitive posturing between half-brothers Joseph and Lysol, whose opposite approaches to the situation lead to some major clashes. And the situation takes some properly nasty turns.
The actors are excellent, particularly shining in frequent scenes that centre on personal interaction. This creates vivid connections between family members who are strongly linked even if they're related along not-so-straight lines. Greyeyes has quiet charisma as the natural leader, while Goodluck has natural presence as an observant young man who is expecting a child with his teen girlfriend (Scriven). Others nicely play to type: Tailfeathers' healer, Gordon's hothead, Goeman's wise samurai master and various enthusiastic warriors.
There are several thematic touches, knowingly linking native community issues to comments about how the undead have emerged because the planet is tired of humanity destroying everything. But Barnaby's main interest is in the zombie genre, specifically finding inventive ways to dismember people. Much of the action feels fresh and offhanded, as the undead remain in the background, but the bigger attacks are messy and rather incoherent. Thankfully, as the story takes some harsh turns, it manages to get under the skin in some surprisingly emotive ways.
The Half of It
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Alice Wu
prd Anthony Bregman, M Blair Breard, Alice Wu
with Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire, Collin Chou, Becky Ann Baker, Wolfgang Novogratz, Enrique Murciano, Macintyre Dixon, Catherine Curtin, Gabi Samels, Haley Murphy, Tyler Crozier
release US/UK 1.May.20
20/US Netflix 1h44
This witty, fiercely original teen spin on Cyrano de Bergerac opens with the lead character explaining that "this is not a love story". Indeed, filmmaker Alice Wu astutely cuts through the topic, exploring the nature of longing and romance. It's beautifully written, directed and edited to tell an engaging story that's funny and powerfully involving, mainly because of what it so effortlessly reveals about all of us.
In a small Pacific Northwest town, bright teen Ellie (Lewis) writes papers for her classmates, earning badly needed cash. Then shy jock Paul (Diemer) hires her to write a love letter to Aster (Lemire). The problem is that Ellie has a secret crush on Aster. Their correspondence becomes a game of wits between Ellie and Aster, with Paul clueless about what's going on. In the process, Aster reveals her own frustrations with life in a small town with the requisite boyfriend (Novogratz). Along the way, Ellie, Paul and Aster find some surprising connections.
The film is written and directed to catch details everywhere, revealing layers of complexity in things like relentless peer pressure and the way Ellie prefers to remain an outcast, beyond the expectations of the crowd (the popular girl clones and chucklehead schoolboys are hilarious). Wu is cleverly playing with the conventions of both romantic comedies and teen movies, weaving in clips of old classics on the TV while creating characters who are singularly winning.
And the actors fill them with likeable quirks. Lewis and Diemer are gorgeous as an amusing odd couple, a snappy brain and clueless meathead who both deserve happiness. And Lemire's Aster has her own vivid internal currents. The developing friendships between them are played to perfection. While adult cast members add essential textures, including Baker's teacher, who'd rather read Ellie's essays than the dull rubbish other students submit, and Chou as Ellie's dad, worn down by both life and systemic prejudice.
Wu knowingly puts the viewer right in the middle of this story, evoking the small-town atmosphere as well as how feelings cause havoc with who we are trying to be. Seeing this through Ellie's eyes is bracing, peppered with moments that carry a wonderful kick. So when the whole school notices Ellie for the first time, it's exhilarating, as are the various relationships that catch characters off guard along the way. And what this film says about love is profound. As Ellie's dad notes, "Have you ever loved someone so much you didn't want anything about them to change?"
Rose Plays Julie
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor
prd David Collins, Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy
with Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen, Catherine Walker, Annabell Rickerby, Joanne Crawford, Alan Howley, Sadie Soverall, Julien Benoiton, Esosa Ighodaro, Lochlann O'Mearain, Sarah Jane Scott
release UK/Ire 29.May.20
Dark and involving, this slow-burn Irish drama dives into a remarkably involving situation that encompasses a variety of taboo themes, grappling with them in a deeply personal way. It's often hard to watch, partly because it's so slow and deliberate, but also because where these characters go is painful on various levels. The ultimate message might be muddled, seeking catharsis in the wrong place, but it's a finely made film.
In Dublin, veterinary student Rose (Skelly) has discovered that her birth mother is well-known actress Ellen (Brady), so she makes contact. But their first meeting is eerily tense, culminating in Ellen's confession that Rose was conceived during a rape. As both women confront this dark truth about their shared past, Rose decides to track down her biological father, archaeologist Peter (Gillen), calling herself Julie, which was her birth name. This sets in motion a plan to get revenge against him on behalf of Ellen. And what happens next is both predictable and surprising.
Filmmakers Molloy and Lawler let all of this play out almost in slow motion. Conversations are deliberate and hesitant, emphasising emotional undercurrents as these people confront a shared history that has been unspoken for more than two decades. Each of these three people have moved on with their lives, but are pulled back into the past by an event that has never been dealt with, either privately or openly. And while the way they confront this history sometimes feels a little melodramatic and over-egged, it's powerfully moving and often scary.
Performances match the film's moody tone, centring on expressive faces rather than dialog. Skelly is a fascinating lead, compelling and engaging, thoughtful and full of surprises as Rose becomes determined to not only understand her past but confront it head-on. Her connection with the always superb Brady's Ellen is complex, growing and shifting as the story continues. And Gillen brings an offhanded touch to his role that's startlingly realistic.
Molloy and Lawler intercut some pretty nasty scenes of Rose's coursework, as she learns how to euthanise and dissect animals, intriguingly contrasted by Peter's work on his archaeological dig. The way these two elements come together is perhaps overly symbolic, but it adds a clever thematic kick. It's also very, very bleak. And the script seems to suggest that turning to violence is the only way these women will find healing. But of course, this will only cause them even more pain in the end.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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