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Short reviews of awards-buzzy films I caught up with late in the game...


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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 12.Jan.22

Drive My Car  
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5   MUST must see SEE

Drive My Car
dir Ryusuke Hamaguchi
scr Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
with Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima, Paku Yurim, Jin Daeyeon, Sonia Yuan, Satoko Abe
release Jpn 20.Aug.21,
UK 19.Nov.21, US 24.Nov.21
21/Japan 2h59

41st Shadows Awards


Is it streaming?

nishijima and miura
Based on a Murakami short story, this elegantly paced and very long film has major portions of Chekhov woven into its exploration of grief and human connection. An astonishing range of complexities in this story are beautifully revealed by filmmaker Hamaguchi, augmented by superbly nuanced performances from the cast. Scenes along the way are utterly mesmerising, often exhilarating in the way they cut through the surfaces.
The story centres on a stage actor (Nishijima), whose life is upended when his screenwriter wife (Kirishima) dies suddenly, before they're able to clear the air. Two years later, he travels to Hiroshima to direct Uncle Vanya at a theatre festival, and his routine is disrupted when he's assigned a young woman (Miura) to drive his car. He's also taken aback when a young actor (Okada), with whom he has a tensely unspoken personal history, auditions for the play, which is being performed by a cast of actors who speak different languages.

The wrinkles in the story are written, directed, performed and edited with natural, earthy rhythms that are riveting to watch. This means that quietly offhanded moments carry big emotional meanings. There are a number of relationships that swirl up in the narrative, adding interest on a range of levels that connect cleverly into the central theme. Profound truths echo throughout this story, as these characters circle around, challenging each other to grapple with big truths about their lives. This is a provocative reminder that we can never truly know anyone else, and even knowing ourselves fully will be a lifelong quest.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 12.Dec.21

I’m Your Man   Ich Bin Dein Mensch
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
I'm Your Man
dir Maria Schrader
prd Lisa Blumenberg
scr Jan Schomburg, Maria Schrader
with Maren Eggert, Dan Stevens, Sandra Huller, Hans Low, Wolfgang Hubsch, Annika Menika Meier, Falilou Seck, Jurgen Tarrach
release Ger 1.Jul.21,
UK 13.Aug.21, US 24.Sep.21
21/Germany 1h48


Is it streaming?

eggert and stevens
A snappy, alert script grabs the attention from the start, digging beneath the surface of what could have been a gimmicky comedy about a woman matched with a robot designed to be her perfect man. The film's brisk pace and nicely understated tone cut through the silliness to find emotional resonance in unexpected places. And as it digs deeper, it makes some observations that are moving and even provocative.
It's the story of sharp-witted Berlin anthropologist Alma (Eggert), who is participating in an experiment run by a scientist (Huller) during which she will live for three weeks with lifelike robot Tom (Stevens), who was designed to make her happy. She's of course sceptical, insisting that she's not looking for a partner, but Tom is persistent. He also complicates her unspoken, long-gurgling attraction with coworker Julian (Low). But as Tom begins to surprise her, Alma can't help but connect with him.

Filmmaker Schrader has fun with technology, adding witty touches that draw out the characters' charm. Eggert is strongly engaging as the cynical Alma. And Stevens gets the balance just right between Tom's uncanny precision and his attempts to appear human, struggling to understand concepts like comedy, egoism or conflicting emotions. Although he does know the difference between romance and sex. Some of the script's observations feel obvious, like trying to explain why epic fail videos are funny. But the film is cleverly written, directed and performed to maintain a lightly amusing tone even as it grapples with some thoughtful ideas about the joy and pain, and the never-ending search for meaning, that make us truly alive.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 28.Dec.21

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It
dir Mariem Perez Riera
with Rita Moreno, Justina Machado, Morgan Freeman, Norman Lear, Eva Longoria, Gloria Estefan, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Whoopi Goldberg, Fernanda Gordon
release US 18.Jun.21
21/US 1h31


Is it streaming?

Snappy and involving, this biographical doc about the sensational icon is deeply engaging, both as an entertaining look at Rita Moreno's showbiz life and as a more darkly shaded depiction of her experiences as a young immigrant. She certainly isn't afraid to speak openly about these things, and an intriguing range of interviewees add textures. So the film has a lot to say about both Moreno and Hollywood itself.
As the film follows Moreno while she goes about her busy life, she anchors the documentary with her singularly riotous blast of comedic energy. She says that she was wired to be a performer from the time she was born. And Norman Lear sees her as the embodiment of the American Dream, a migrant who achieved it all in a broad career that has included music, drama, comedy, leading of course to an Oscar, Grammy, Tony and two Emmys. But her career wasn't easy, as she was also sidelined, abused and silenced. No wonder she became an activist.

It's wonderful to see the feisty, outspoken, fabulous woman of 90 she is today. And since the interviewees have worked with her and often share common backgrounds, they can chat about both her shining career and the bigger themes that surround her life. And of course her own recollections are wonderful, describing the trip as a young girl from colourfully green Puerto Rico to icy grey New York as a reverse journey to Oz.

Moreno opens up about both her long romance with Marlon Brando and the abuse she endured along the way, speaking with steely honesty about being a studio system starlet surrounded by predatory men who made her play degrading ethnic stereotypes. And of course her life changed when she so indelibly played Anita in the 1961 classic West Side Story, inspired by the character's insistence on speaking her mind. The film beautifully captures how important it is for an artist to be able to be herself.

cert 15 themes, language 21.Dec.21

The Scary of Sixty-First  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
The Scary of Sixty-First
dir Dasha Nekrasova
scr Dasha Nekrasova, Madeline Quinn
prd Adam Mitchell, Mark Rapaport
with Betsey Brown, Madeline Quinn, Dasha Nekrasova, Mark Rapaport, Stephen Gurewitz, Jason Grisell, Ruby McCollister, Michael M Bilandic
release US 3.Dec.21
21/US 1h21


Is it streaming?

quinn and nekrasova
Cleverly shot and edited to combine earthy humour with a lurid, gothic sensibility, this evocative thriller keeps us on our toes right from the start. Actor-filmmaker Dasha Nekrasova weaves in current events to give the movie a startling resonance, while the imagery gleefully goes right over the top. The film's blackly comical, drug-hazed edge adds to the surreally internalised narrative, which becomes increasingly pointed and disturbing as it goes along.
The story centres on long-time friends Addie and Noelle (Brown and Quinn), who get a great deal on a Manhattan apartment then quickly make some nasty discoveries. And burning sage to purge the bad vibes doesn't sort things out. Indeed, Addie's nightmares get even more terrifying. Then a mysterious woman (Nekrasova) turns up investigating the apartment's violent past, which fascinates and frightens Noelle. And as Addie starts behaving very oddly indeed, it becomes increasingly clear that the apartment itself is cursed.

Brown and Quinn quickly establish their characters with witty banter that veers between joking and clashing, which gives remarkable texture to their connection later on. And Addie's tetchy nice-guy boyfriend Greg (Rapaport) also adds a terrific dynamic. As details emerge, the tone quickly shifts into something seriously sinister, largely because everything that happens is linked to the horrific crimes of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Where all of this goes is bold, bonkers and very full-on. And while it's basically an inventive exercise in freak-out atmospherics, the film also has something intriguing to say about the rippling echoes of violence.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 11.Jan.22

The Summit of the Gods   Le Sommet des Dieux
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Summit of the Gods
dir Patrick Imbert
scr Magali Pouzol, Patrick Imbert
prd Damien Brunner, Didier Brunner, Jean-Charles Ostorero, Stephan Roelants
voices Damien Boisseau, Eric Herson-Macarel, Francois Dunoyer, Elisabeth Ventura, Kylian Rehlinger, Luc Bernard, Marc Arnaud, Lazare Herson-Macarel
release Fr 22.Sep.21,
US/UK 30.Nov.21
21/France 1h35


Now streaming...

With inventive, often spectacularly photorealistic animation, this French-language adventure film is based on a Japanese manga. The detail in the writing and animation make the film powerfully involving, and it's packed with especially lively characters, thrilling life-or-death sequences and skilful impressionistic moments that offer unusual insight into how it feels to be on the side of an angry mountain. And film's deeper questions resonate even more strongly.
The story centres on Japanese photojournalist Fukamachi (Boisseau), who is determined to track down legendary mountain-climber Habu (Eric Herson-Macarel). He may have found the camera Mallory was carrying on his ill-fated attempt on Everest in 1927, 25 years before the first official successful summit. After tracing Habu's story, Fukamachi tracks him down in the Himalayas, where Habu reluctantly allows him to join him on Everest. So as he documents Habu's ascent, Fukamachi is also hoping to get the story of the century.

The script quietly excavates the mindset of a mountaineer and the personal issues that drive him, finding intriguing parallels in the tenacity of a journalist. Both men are fascinating, as is a collection of sherpas, fans and aspiring climbers along the way, each of whom has his own story to tell. With animation that skilfully captures the scale of the mountains in their staggering beauty, filmmaker Imbert recounts a complex narrative. And along the way, there are several outrageously suspenseful sequences, beautifully assembled to highlight thoughts and feelings that are easy to identify with. And it's a superb reminder that it's not always possible to answer every question.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 26.Dec.21

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