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|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 2.Dec.20|
Jack and the Beanstalk
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Peter Duncan, Ian Talbot
scr Peter Duncan
prd Denise Silvey
with Peter Duncan, Nicola Blackman, Sam Ebenezer, Sarah Moss, Ian Talbot, Jos Vantyler, Yuval Shwartsman, Josh Freeman, Julia Gale, Chris Redburn, Josephine Chasney Evans, Charlie Booker
release UK 4.Dec.20
Watch it online
Subtitled "The Garden Pantomime", this film opens in the real world before diving into a traditional British panto, inventively shot at home during lockdown and released into cinemas and online just in time for the holiday season. It's strikingly well shot, edited and performed, packed with hilariously silly gags that knowingly tap into current events. Everything from Covid to Brexit to climate change features in the colourfully bonkers story.
The Garden Fairy (Blackman) describes a world in chaos, with melting icecaps, political turmoil, pandemic lockdown and a giant (Shwartsman) threatening humanity. But tetchy Squire Shortshanks (Talbot) has no compassion for the financially crippled Jack (Ebenezer), especially since he's his daughter Jill's (Moss) boyfriend. In desperation, Jack's mother Dame Trott (Duncan) sends him to sell their cow Buttercup (Gale and Redburn), but he returns with a bag of beans that grow into an enormous stalk. So when Jack learns that Jill has been kidnapped by the giant's goon Fleshcreepy (Vantyler), he climbs to everyone's rescue.
Inventively shot in London back gardens, the show includes required elements like audience participation, appalling jokes, a cross-dressing heroine and constant wink-wink innuendo, plus several terrific musical numbers. The characters continually break the fourth wall, encouraging boys and girls to interact with the characters. It does feel rather a lot like a manic children's TV show made for grown-ups (note the nod to Pee-Wee's Playhouse). The script is a riot of gags that will keep viewers of any age entertained.
Performers take the required broad approach, while also finding engaging character details and indulging in a lot of amusing slapstick. Ebenezer gives the film a strong dose of heart as the intrepid Jack, the show's heroic straight man surrounded by larger-than-life scene-chompers. His romance with Moss' prickly Jill is diverting. And as Jack's flamboyant mother, Duncan is the show's star, shamelessly stealing focus from everyone else by changing into yet another astonishing costume, then leading the audience in various sing-alongs.
There are several skilfully staged sequences, including eye-catching group numbers and cheeky special effects, plus a riotous flight above London, into the river and beyond. And the story just gets increasingly ridiculous as it goes along, traversing through a number of hysterically nutty set-pieces that are infused with a blizzard of goofy and smart gags. Pantomime is a singular British tradition that might leave others lost. But this show is so blissfully giddy that it could earn an international fanbase. Especially for anyone who knows the power of a well-timed fart.
Lost at Christmas
Review by Rich Cline |
Is it streaming?
With a relaxed, meandering pace, this low-budget Scottish comedy feels corny but remains likeable through a variety of situations that alternate between amusing and heartwarming. There's never much doubt where it's heading, but director Ryan Hendrick makes nice use of the locations while keeping the focus on the characters rather than the uneven farcical gyrations of the rom-com plot. It's somewhat loose and awkward, but there's an undeniable charm.
On a snowy Christmas Eve in the Highlands, Jen (Clark) and Rob (Boyle) have both just had nasty breakups when they meet at a station after the last train has gone. They're not exactly in friendly moods, but they team up to make a plan. After "borrowing" Jen's ex's car and getting stuck in the snow, they find refuge at a village inn and immediately dive into some rather large glasses of local whisky. And as they both wish they could erase this whole day, they begin to open up to each other.
The bickering banter between Jen and Rob has a nice edge, underpinned by their respective heartbreaks, facing the wreckage of dead-end relationships. The dry sense of humour adds an enjoyably sardonic undertone. And it's easy to root for these two sad sacks who need cheering up, even if their budding romance feels contrived. But they find unexpected common ground as they share their stories. And the rag-tag gang in the inn both challenges and supports them.
The cast is charming, even if everything is painted with broad strokes. Clark's chirpy Jen continually tries to liven things up with humour, which Rob deflects. Both are dealing with their breakups in their own ways, so Jen's optimism understandably both grating and attractive to Boyle's gloomy Rob. But it's Christmas, and there's no sense in wallowing. Several colourful characters fill in around the story's edges, adding nutty textures and little observations along the way, stealing moments but never whole scenes.
Hendrick's directing style is unflashy, keeping things grounded and a bit quirky as the mood veers from wacky to emotional and back. Although his tentative approach to most scenes leaves everything feeling slow and underpowered. Still, there's a strong theme in here about how it feels when living a lie finally comes to its end. This makes the film feel bittersweet, despite some pushy attempts to ramp up the happy sentimentality. So while the final act is stretched out, at least it brings a smile. And a reminder that finding people who actually care can be transformative.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Gerard Johnson
prd Matthew James Wilkinson, Ed Barratt, Richard Wylie, Eric Tavitian, Frederic Fiore
with Cavan Clerkin, Craig Fairbrass, Polly Maberly, Lorraine Burroughs, Mark Stobbart, Mark Mooney, Ali Cook, Gordon Brown, Peter Ferdinando, Sinead Matthews, Paul Horn, John Wilkinson
release UK 4.Dec.20
Is it streaming?
Striking monochrome cinematography lends a silvery edge to this low-budget British drama. So while the movie has the usual soapy crime-thriller tone, its ambitious imagery encourages the audience to look deeper. Writer-director Gerard Johnson is taking a deep dive into machismo that's bleak and also rather uneven. But this is a provocative character study that holds the attention with its unblinking approach. Even in the unnecessary final 20 minutes.
Working in a Newcastle telesales call centre, Simon (Clerkin) is confronted at home by his girlfriend Sarah (Maberly) for sticking with a job he hates. To build confidence, he joins a local gym where hard man Terry (Fairbrass) offers to train him. As Simon goes into himself, Sarah leaves him. And Terry moves in with him to accelerate his workouts. But Terry takes over Simon's life, throwing wild parties, moving the raucous Crystal (Burroughs) into the house and reacting badly when Simon breaks his strict rules. Terry also insists that Simon starts injecting testosterone.
Toxic masculinity gurgles throughout this fine-looking film, most notably in how Terry goads Simon into beefing up his body and behaving more like a misogynistic lad (the call centre has its own cock-of-the-walk culture). But Simon isn't as obsessive as Terry, which creates foreboding tension between them. The central idea is that the self-doubting Simon is heading down the wrong path in his attempt to take control of his dead-end life. Johnson muddles the film's message, but provides plenty of food for thought.
Clerkin gives a superbly observational quality to Simon. Watching him physically transform is fascinating, as is a shifting sense of identity. His strained scenes with Maberly have a textured honesty to them. Then Fairbrass arrives with a superbly layered blast of growling machismo. Even his quieter moments bristle with intensity, and he beautifully plays the character's mercurial angles in some surprising moments. Supporting performers add some heightened black comedy by overplaying their roles.
The script never quite digs into bodybuilding culture, why men feel the urge to risk their health simply to inflate muscles. Johnson's undercooked script often reverts to violence and criminality, which Terry sees as an indication that Simon is "becoming a man". As one of Terry's parties descends into an extended orgy, this theme becomes oddly blurred, only hinting at something much more textured and intriguing. Otherwise, the salient idea is that is that Terry is brainwashing Simon into believing his version of masculinity. And when Simon realises this, it's eerily moving.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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