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Short reviews of films I only managed to see late in the game...


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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 21.Dec.23

Moving On  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Strange World
dir-scr Paul Weitz
with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Malcolm McDowell, Richard Roundtree, Sarah Burns, Marcel Nahapetian, Amber Chardae Robinson, Vachik Mangassarian
release US 17.Mar.23,
UK 16.May.23

fonda and tomlin
There's a surprising edge to this comedy-drama that reunites Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in more serious roles than usual. As they confront an awful event from their distant past, both of them are forced to grapple with where they are now, so the film becomes an intriguing look both backwards and forward at the tail end of a long life. It's nostalgic, but never overplayed, and writer-director Paul Weitz keeps the film truthful and smart, with occasional hints of a breezy caper that seems a bit out of place alongside the dark theme that sits at the story's centre. Thankfully, vivid writing and characterisations add more nuance than expected.

18.Oct.23 • premiered at TORONTO FILM FEST

The Covenant   aka: Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Covenant
dir Guy Ritchie
scr Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Marn Davies
with Jake Gyllenhaal, Dar Salim, Antony Starr, Emily Beecham, Jonny Lee Miller, Alexander Ludwig, Bobby Schofield, Reza Diako
release US 21.Apr.23,
UK 20.Jun.23
23/US STX 2h03

salim and gyllenhaal
Set in 2018 Afghanistan, this remarkably understated thriller may be fictional, but it has a strong ring of truth to its story of an American soldier who feels a moral responsibility for helping the interpreter who saved his life. And Jake Gyllenhaal and Dar Salim are excellent in these two complex roles. Director-cowriter Guy Ritchie plays out the narrative with an edgy authenticity that often feels like a documentary, so even when the bigger action beats emerge, they feel grounded in human experience. While the lone female role is badly underwritten, each of the actors has a terrific earthiness that avoids the usual militaristic bombast.


Dance First  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
Dance First
dir James Marsh
scr Neil Forsyth
with Gabriel Byrne, Fionn O'Shea, Maxine Peake, Aidan Gillen, Bronagh Gallagher, Sandrine Bonnaire, Grainne Good, Lisa Dwyer Hogg
release UK 3.Nov.23
23/UK Sky 1h49
byrne and bonaire
While director James Marsh adds considerable visual flourish to this imaginative biopic about Samuel Beckett, there's a nagging feeling that the story is incomplete, as if it is skipping across the surface of a darkly complex figure. So while the script and performances add nuance in the characters and relationships, the point of the movie feels eerily out of reach. Thankfully, superb performances as Beckett from Gabriel Byrne and especially Fionn O'Shea give the film layers of insight and context. And the production design is packed with clever touches that spark our imagination while we watch Beckett debate things with himself.


The Sitting Duck   La Syndicaliste
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
The Sitting Duck
dir Jean-Paul Salome
scr Fadette Drouard, Jean-Paul Salome
with Isabelle Huppert, Gregory Gadebois, Francois-Xavier Demaison, Pierre Deladonchamps, Marina Fois, Yvan Attal, Alexandra Maria Lara, Gilles Cohen
release Fr 1.Mar.23,
UK 16.Jun.23, US 1.Dec.23
22/France 2h01
huppert and Fois
Slickly assembled with a yet another riveting performance by Isabelle Huppert at its centre, this French dramatic thriller is too talky and detailed to properly pull the audience in, especially as the plot becomes stuck in a repetitive series of procedural-style scenes. Set in 2012, it's the true story of union representative Maureen Kearney who begins rattling businessmen and government officials when she investigates dodgy deals in the nuclear power sector. This leads to repeated threats and a seriously nasty assault in her home, which spirals into a vile attack on her character. Horrific sexism and corruption ripple throughout this dark tale, and both add an urgent topicality. And the scale of the case is shocking. A more focussed script might have brought these events to life in an even more compelling way.

28.Nov.23 • premiered at VENICE FILM FEST

Flamin’ Hot  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Flamin' Hot
dir Eva Longoria
scr Lewis Colick, Linda Yvette Chavez
with Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, Dennis Haysbert, Tony Shalhoub, Emilio Rivera, Vanessa Martinez, Matt Walsh, Bobby Soto
release US/UK 9.Jun.23
23/US Searchlight 1h39
garcia and haysbert
While the plot of this biopic may be apocryphal, this is still a thumpingly enjoyable movie. Told through the eyes of its protagonist, and skilfully directed by Eva Longoria, the film is a delightful celebration of the US Hispanic subculture and a perhaps idealistic depiction of the American Dream. It's the story of Richard Montanez, beautifully played by Jesse Garcia, a janitor at FritoLay who manages to catch the attention of the top executive (a superb scene-stealing Tony Shalhoub) by alerting him to the power of his growing demographic group. Appropriately, the story centres around the strong relationships between characters. And it cleverly plays on Richard's perspective to create some hilariously knowing comedy beats. But most important is the inspiring depiction of an uneducated but smart guy who simply refused to accept life as a stereotype, drew strength from the people around him and achieved something far beyond even his own dreams.


How to Have Sex  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
How to Have Sex
dir-scr Molly Manning Walker
with Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake, Enva Lewis, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, Laura Ambler, Eilidh Loan, Finlay Vane Last
release UK 3.Nov.23,
US Jan.24 sff
23/UK Film4 1h31

bottomlu and mckenna-bruce
Starting out as a raucous girls' trip comedy, and shot in the style of a boisterous reality series, this film takes its first fierce turn early on, deepening the drama in ways that are powerfully insightful, even devastating. This is a knowing coming-of-age movie about three British teen girls on a rite of passage as they take a drunken, partying trip to Greece. But for one of them, this transition to adulthood isn't what she expects. Cleverly shifting the plot's timeline for maximum dramatic effect, cinematographer turned writer-director Molly Manning Walker has a remarkable gift for capturing real-life situations with rippling authenticity, and her fresh young cast is packed with promising performers. Mia McKenna-Bruce finds riveting layers in the lead role, and both Samuel Bottomley and Shaun Thomas are full of surprises as the boys she encounters. This is an edgy, important filmmaking debut that rightly has provoked some big conversations.


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