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|Shadows off the beaten path|
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 10.Feb.21|
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Victor Buhler
prd Michael Knowles
scr Victor Buhler, Michael Knowles, Jennifer Knowles
with Matthew McNulty, Andrew Gower, Rakhee Thakrar, Tamzin Merchant, Emma Stansfield, Sacha Parkinson, Samuel Bottomley, James Senneck, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Phillip Parnell, Nick Shaw, Jair Vera
release US Oct.21 pff,
Is it streaming?
An engaging mix of comedy and drama, this British independent film takes on big themes in a light-handed way. So while this may be a story about cancer, it remains witty and hopeful, keeping a smile on our faces. Director Victor Buhler's loose approach looks great and keeps everything moving at a brisk pace, even if he oddly shies away from some of the story's more grown-up elements.
Now in their 30s, Mark and Ben (McNulty and Gower) have been best friends since meeting as teens undergoing leukaemia treatment. Mark has become an oncologist, while the obsessive-compulsive Ben struggles to with everyday life. Then Mark gets some bad news, pointlessly turning to his ex (Thakrar) for support and picking a fight with Ben. Eventually, he decides to take on Ben as a project, getting him to come out of his shell and really live. This starts with a series of properly intense jolts and leads to some new friends (Merchant and Stansfield).
Skilfully shot in terrific locations, the film flickers back to the teen Mark and Ben (Bottomley and Senneck) meeting in hospital and streaking through the halls to taunt the staff, offering a signpost of where this is heading. Meanwhile in the present, weekly dinners, bike rides and new adventures are depicted as both farcical and darkly momentous at the same time. This makes it very easy to identify with the situations and feelings they evoke. And there are also several plot points that have deeper meaning, even if they're not exactly surprising.
McNulty has the livelier character, a jokester who continually pushes Ben out of his comfort zone. And indeed, Gower has the tougher role as the rather humourless but still likeable Ben, who reluctantly begins enjoying Mark's radical plan. In the flashbacks, Bottomley and Senneck cleverly recreate their chemistry, revealing the origins of the dynamic between them. And while the focus remains tightly on the two men, there's fine support from Thakrar, Merchant and Stansfield in smaller roles.
Buhler finds a terrific balance between the bleaker emotional angles of the narrative and the fizzy humour that keeps each scene grounded in earthy humanity. Mark and Ben's friendship is complex and involving, and there are a variety of surrounding relationships that have provocative edges to them, sparking conversations about salient issues from mental health to consumerism. So while the storytelling may sometimes be a bit timid, this is a lovely reminder not to let ourselves become imprisoned by the past.
Sh*thouse UK title: Freshman Year
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Cooper Raiff
prd Divi Crockett, Will Youmans
with Cooper Raiff, Dylan Gelula, Amy Landecker, Logan Miller, Olivia Welch, Abby Quinn, Joy Sunday, Ashley Padilla, Tre Hall, Alina Patra, Chinedu Unaka, Nick Saso
release US 16.Oct.20,
Is it streaming?
This wry, knowing comedy is a terrific writing-directing debut for 24-year-old actor Cooper Raiff, who draws on recent experiences to observe a young man's first flush of independence and the momentous shift in self-awareness that goes with it. A scruffy, hugely endearing little film, this is a clever depiction of an unexpected friendship between two very different people who discover that they have a lot in common.
Nice guy Alex (Raiff) is struggling in his first year at university in Los Angeles, missing his mother and sister (Landecker and Welch) in Dallas and annoyed by his chucklehead roommate Sam (Miller). To put himself out there, Alex attends a raucous frat-house party where he runs into his RA Maggie (Gelula), a sophomore who's looking for someone to talk to. After they spend the whole night hanging out, Alex reluctantly begins to admit that he needs to take hold of what the world is offering him. So he heads to another party with Sam.
With strong echoes of Before Sunrise, the film's first hour consists of an all-night conversation between Alex and Maggie, which feels earthy and improvised as it roams through topics that grow incrementally deeper. Much of this is warmly amusing, with moments of hilarious back and forth between two people who find it difficult to make friends. But they open up emotionally to each other, which is perhaps new for both of them. And the fallout is layered with unexpected feelings.
Raiff has awkward charm as Alex, a smart kid who's only beginning to learn to be himself. His clumsy approach is enjoyably echoed in the film's scrappy indie style. By contrast, Gelula's Maggie is sardonic and worldly, but still trying to find herself. Alongside them, Miller has terrific presence as the surprisingly complex stoner who in his own immature way encourages Alex to grow up. And both Landecker and Welch have some great moments as well.
Much of the humour in this film is of the brittle variety, anchored in the fragility of human connections. While the script seems structured as a romantic comedy, it has more intriguing things in mind, sending Alex on an odyssey that pushes him out of his comfort zone to face a few hard truths about the big bad world. Best of all is his realisation that he needs to throw himself fully into living his life without pining for the past. It's a simple message evoked in a way that hits a nerve.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Scott J Ramsey
scr Hannah Katherine Jost, Scott J Ramsey
prd Hannah Katherine Jost, Kevin De Nicolo, Alex De Nicolo, Scott J Ramsey, Amber-Tiana De Marco
with Hope Raymond, Eliza Boivin, Brian Smick, Zach Cowan, Valerie Fachman, Hans Probst, Ashley Raggs, Miyoko Sakatani, Perry Fenton, Vicky Lopez, Hunter Ridenour, George Arana
release US 12.Feb.21
Is it streaming?
With an insinuating Lynch/Cronenberg approach, this low-budget thriller is rough around the edges but camp enough to hold the interest. The film is cheesy, choppy and far too long, and the filmmakers shy away from anything truly sexual in a movie all about sex. But it's delightfully bonkers. So even if it never quite works on any level, it's so audacious that it's impossible to imagine what might happen next.
Arriving at a masked fundraising ball at a seaside estate, Stella (Boivin) is renamed E7 and drilled on the rules. Inside she finds her friend Danny (Smick), who runs the events alongside glamorous host Christian (Raymond), known as X. Anything goes at these monthly celebrity bashes, as long as privacy is respected. But Christian and Danny worry that Stella might jeopardise their tight security. On the other hand, as a webcam model she may attract high-rollers who will donate more cash to Christian's foundation. The problem is that there are secret desires undermining everything.
These are oddly tame orgies, but director Ramsey ramps things up with gleefully corny touches, suggesting a complex web of attraction. Strangely, the sexiest sequence involves Christian watching secret camera footage from the bathroom, excited to see people who think no one's watching. Meanwhile, the soapy plot reveals that Danny invited Stella to fix her up with Christian, not knowing that Christian has a long-time crush on Stella's hot boyfriend Jackson (Cowan). And lurking in the background is Christian's ex-popstar mother Lynda (Fachman).
Performances are uneven, matching the arch filmmaking style. Since most of these people are pansexual, it's tricky to work out what they're after. At least there are some nutty wrinkles stemming from the four lead characters' history in high school. Raymond and Smick have fun in the central roles, as Christian and Danny's twisted partnership creates plenty of chaos. And Boivin brings her own angst to the story. But none of the actors is particularly subtle.
Aside from a gentle satire of the secret debauchery of the rich and famous, there isn't much going on under the surface. And Ramsey never quite gets a grip on the lurid plot, leaving key points unexplored and undefined while failing to get under the skin of any of the characters. So while it's entertaining as a twisted bit of intrigue in which it's never clear who's trustworthy, there's nobody on-screen to identify with or care about.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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