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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 16.Feb.22

Give or Take  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Give or Take
dir Paul Riccio
scr Paul Riccio, Jamie Effros
prd Paul Riccio, Jamie Effros, David Kuhn, Angela Malley, Kevin Matusow
with Norbert Leo Butz, Jamie Effros, Joanne Tucker, Louis Cancelmi, Cheri Oteri, Annapurna Sriram, Jaden Waldman, Shaun O'Hagan, Roya Shanks, Dennis Cunningham, Garry Mitchell, Kyle Overstreet
release US 11.Feb.22
20/US 1h43

Is it streaming?

There's an earthy charm to this gentle comedy-drama about a man who returns home and struggles to correct his mistaken ideas about his past and present. The film is populated with enjoyably textured characters, each of whom adds his or her own perspective in a range of witty and insightful interactions. Director Paul Riccio keeps the tone sunny and light while allowing the depth of meaning to emerge organically.
After his father dies, New Yorker Martin (Effros) drives to Cape Cod to sort out his childhood home, knowing it will be awkward to deal with his dad's longtime boyfriend Ted (Butz). They quickly butt heads about the funeral plans, but this is mainly because Martin never really knew his dad or took his relationship with Ted seriously. Then Martin's childhood friend Emma (Tucker) urges him to give Ted a chance. As they begin to talk, they find common ground, begin to properly grieve and find the courage to face whatever's living in the attic.
Martin is likeable despite his underlying homophobia, as he's been terrified to even think about his father's life in the decades since he came out, following his wife's death. Everyone in town knows Ted's a good guy, and Martin needs to learn that before he can begin to see that his dad was too. Meanwhile, Martin reconnects with Emma and her family in sometimes surprising ways. This helps him make sense of his personal journey, although whether he'll ever truly understand is a lingering question.

Effros finds nice balance in his performance as the uptight, vulnerable Martin, bringing out inner charm and deeper emotions. He has enjoyably prickly chemistry with the superbly relaxed Butz, whose Ted is grounded and honest. When they cut loose together, the screen lights up, catching us off-guard in ways that are funny and resonant. Cancelmi offers some enjoyably low-key zen philosophising as Ted's stoner pool guy, while Oteri brings plenty of scene-stealing spark to her role as a full-on estate agent.

The salient theme here is why we try so hard to be someone we're not while failing to see the people around us. Martin's biggest issue is his refusal to understand who his dad really was, rather than the inaccurate image he has cultivated all these years. This idea is casually woven into the core of the drama, making the point without ever pushing it. So the film's most intensely emotional moments unfold with a remarkably understated power.

cert 15 themes, language 8.Feb.22

Strawberry Mansion  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Strawberry Mansion
dir-scr Albert Birney, Kentucker Audley
prd Emma Hannaway, Matisse Rifai, Sarah Winshall, Taylor Ava Shung
with Kentucker Audley, Penny Fuller, Grace Glowicki, Linas Phillips, Reed Birney, Constance Shulman, Ephraim Birney, Albert Birney, Lawrence Worthington, Shannon Heartwood, Matt Heartwood, Mack Reyes
release US 18.Feb.22
21/US 1h31


Is it streaming?

glowicki and audler
Set in a world in which dreams are recorded and taxed, this surreal fantasy has a terrific visual sensibility, saturated in bright colours. It's so original that there's never a question of trying to guess where it might go next, and filmmakers Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley have a lot of fun blurring the lines between reality and the subconscious while recounting a tale that has much deeper resonance.
Dream auditor James (Audley) visits the fuscia country home of the eccentric Bella (Fuller) to look into her dreams. Calling herself an "atmosphere creator", Bella is an old fashioned artist who has neglected to upgrade to the latest technology, so James has 2,000 videotapes to watch. Inside her dreamscape, he meets her younger self (Glowicki). And when she turns up in his dreams, he begins to think he's stumbled into a much deeper reality. Then Bella's intense son Peter (Reed Birney) arrives, and he doesn't want James digging around in his mother's imagination.
From the enjoyably bonkers tech and throwaway gags to a steady stream of fantastical characters, the film is packed with wild details that create a florid atmosphere while the narrative twists and spins into an epic journey. It looks flat-out gorgeous. Effects work has a terrific retro vibe, including stop-motion animation, outrageous costumes and lots of in-camera trickery. Bella's home is a riot of nutty memorabilia, including her pet turtle Sugarbaby. Meanwhile, James' dreams are set in a pink room in which he's visited by a chucklehead buddy (Phillips).

With a low-key, naturalistic performance, Audler keeps the film grounded in its own reality, making James a character the audience can identify with as he begins to think he's losing his mind. Even amid the wildest flights of fancy, he's earthy and real. As Bella, Fuller manages to be both dotty and savvy at the same time, encouraging James to look closer. And Glowicki brings the same open-handed curiosity to her younger version, adding possibilities that expand as the narrative takes several surprising turns.

Bella challenges James with the idea that our dreams aren't necessarily our own, and that things can be transmitted into them, including ads that make "them" money. This weaves in an element of knowing social media satire, offering provocative commentary on a society in which everyone is trying to sell something. And as the story's scale ramps up, the film remains engaged with its characters, creating a fanciful adventure into the nature of individuality in a consumerist culture.

cert 15 themes, violence 15.Feb.22

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Tyson Wade Johnston
prd Jay Douglas, Blake Northfield, Nathan Walker
with Levi Miller, Jason Isaacs, Laura Gordon, Tasia Zalar, Jake Ryan, Sam Parsonson, Robert Morgan, Hunter Page-Lochard, Isaac Drandic, Steve Bastoni, Paula Nazarski, Chelsea Glenn
release Aus 2.Sep.21,
US 18.Feb.22
21/Australia 1h26

Is it streaming?

Executive produced by Ian Thorpe, this Australian drama knows better than most how to depict the focus and determination it takes to become an Olympic champion. Although the deliberately downbeat tone makes it relentlessly grim. Writer-director Tyson Wade Johnston takes the story very seriously, and the heavy tone leaves little room for air. So even though there are several excellent scenes, watching this is a bit of a slog.
As he prepares for the Olympic trials, 15-year-old swimming star Ben (Miller) is distracted by the fact that his father Rob (Isaacs) has just been released from prison. His mother Kim (Gordon) tries to shield him and keep him focussed, while his coach (Morgan) is understanding but pushes him anyway. It's his girlfriend Patti (Zalar), and her teacher father (Drandic) who knows he needs help. Indeed, he's soon failing physical tests and brawling in the schoolyard, losing the desire to swim. Soon he's making bad decisions and taking all the wrong advice.
There's a lot of anger swirling around in this film, and virtually no joy at all. It's never quite clear that Ben enjoys swimming at all, aside from an unexpressed awareness of his natural talents. So going so far off the rails never seems like a very big leap. He turns to his lowlife big brothers (Ryan and Parsonson), who are predictably welcoming and unhelpful. But then everything is depicted using standard cinematic shortcuts, with alcohol, drugs and sex representing bottom of the barrel.

The moment Isaacs enters the frame, the film kicks up a notch, as the actor invests the character with a bristling sense of real life. Everyone else feels gloomy by comparison, even as each delivers a solid performance. With muscly athleticism, Miller has a brooding intensity, but is never asked to show any crackle of energy or humour. Gordon and Zalar have presence in somewhat thankless roles as the concerned women in Ben's life. But his boisterous scenes with the terrific Ryan and Parsonson are encased in gnawing bleakness.

It's frustrating that it's so difficult to engage with this story, because there's plenty in here that catches the interest. But narratives like this require a mix of light and shade to bring the themes and situations to life. Instead, this is the kind of movie we watch, and sometimes admire, but never quite feel. This leaves the thematic messages feeling oddly trite, even if they're strong comments about second chances and the need to lose everything to discover who you are.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 14.Feb.22

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