Spiral: From The Book Of Saw – Review

Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Darren Lynn Bousman

A copycat Jigsaw killer begins to target a police department one by one, getting closer to solo-working Detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock).

It’s odd to think that after almost 20 years, and on the ninth film, the Saw franchise has only just reached the idea of a copycat killer. The Jigsaw killer has been dead for years. John Kramer is simply mentioned in this way, Tobin Bell only appearing in old photos being scanned over for potential evidence. Alongside the change in killer so has the change in targets, subjected to similar Jigsaw-style ‘games’. This new Spiral killer – after the sign left behind as a potential clue near each crime scene – appears to be specifically targeting a local police department, picking off the officers one by one. Starting with an off-duty detective who’s been known to lie under oath, in front of a jury, this very much seems like a film targeting, and inspired by, news stories of the past few years relating to police corruption and brutality.

In this vein the film – from veteran Saw director Darren Lynn Bousman and Jigsaw writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger; apparently with touch-ups from Saw fan Chris Rock – certainly travels more along the lines of police drama/ thriller than a conventional Saw film. For fans of the franchise’s traps, branded by many as torture porn, there’s very little to see here. Three or four brief scenes placed in-between investigation is all that’s really present. The main Saw related content that we get is in the final stages of the piece, although such elements begin to feel rushed and when compared with the rest of the film appear to have come out of nowhere and change the tone dramatically.

For the most part we follow Detective Zeke Banks (Rock). Having never been able to live up to previous career heights and cases 12 years ago, and living in the shadow of his former police chief father, Marcus (Samuel L. Jackson – feeling rather out of place here, when sporting a moustache in flashbacks he looks as if he’d be more at home in a Steve Harvey biopic), he feels undermined by his fellow detectives and officers. Preferring to work solo he finds it difficult to adjust to being partnered with newbie Detective William Schenk (Max Minghella), let alone with others who have been in the department for years. Early on there are a handful of seemingly needless conversations between Banks and Schnek simply to show them going from one place to another. And while these die down the more the film goes on it still feels as if some time is wasted with some of these earlier interactions, potentially just there to build-up the relationship between the two characters; with their different outlooks on their work and those they do it with.

As the investigation increases, and more senior figures within the department are found bloodied and dismembered in all sorts of twisted contraptions, Zeke finds each new target growing closer and closer to him. Seeing most of the film from his perspective leads to more of the by-the-numbers investigation being witnessed, as he, alongside his colleagues, tries to hunt down a copycat killer who leaves behind cryptic videos with real production value. This does mean that when the more common Saw elements come along there’s a somewhat staggered effect as the film shifts from one tone and style to another, and the same for when switching back again. It dampens any potential effect on the viewer from both genre styles, not helped by the general lack of subtlety that runs throughout the narrative.

There’s unlikely enough here to prove enjoyable to most Saw fans, and the unsubtle, generic nature of the crime drama receives just as much of a cold reception. At times it feels as if this latest entry into the franchise is aiming for a mixture of different audiences – the soundtrack hints at an attempt to bring in a new group of modern fans alongside the different potential audiences for the various tones and genre elements of the film. And yet, this isn’t the biggest issue of the film, it doesn’t quite feel like an unsteady jumble. Instead what we get is a rather lacklustre police thriller with some unimpactful Saw elements dotted throughout too.

Tone changes stagger between Saw horror and by-the-books police drama/thriller make it harder to engage with the lacklustre nature and lack of subtlety of Spiral: From The Book Of Saw.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Army Of The Dead – Review

Cert – 18, Run-time – 2 hours 27 minutes, Director – Zack Snyder

A group of specialists and survivors head into a zombie infested Las Vegas to retrieve $200 million from a casino vault before the city is blown up.

There are plenty of ideas in Zack Snyder’s Army Of The Dead that are undeniably cool. By now we’ve all likely seen some form of marketing involving the zombie tiger. There are a number of elements throughout the film that feel as if the screenwriters thought of what ideas would be cool and haven’t overly been seen before and tried to put them into the film. While some are pulled off better than others – there’s a reason the zombie tiger has been talked about so much – many feel at home in the hybrid plot of the film. Dawn Of The Dead meets Shaun Of The Dead meets Ocean’s Eleven as a group of specialists and survivors of a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas are recruited to go back into the infested city to get $200 million from a casino vault before the city is blown up the next day to prevent the further zombie spread.

We’re introduced to a handful of this gang in the early stages of the film – particularly watching them fight for survival in an extended slow-motion montage showing the initial spread of zombies throughout Las Vegas. Set to a slow rendition of Viva Las Vegas it’s the first of a number of lengthy ideas throughout the film. At almost two and a half hours this is a long film. Many scenes, particularly early on in the film, feel as if they build up to their point instead of getting to it, losing the attention of the viewer and adding to the feeling of the run-time. Things do pick up in the second half of the piece, particularly as the stakes raise and the heist truly comes into form.

Zombies enclose in, some of which are evolved, smarter, faster and stronger than the regular flesh-eaters. As the goal seems closer to being achieved the undead pose a stronger threat, added to by the looming bomb drop, and the attempts to create comic relief don’t appear to be as present anymore. This final point isn’t necessarily a bad thing, most attempts come through German safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) and don’t have the best success rate at properly landing. It allows for less stalling and pausing as bigger action moments begin to emerge. While not all of the early chases and attacks gain an effective response from the viewer Snyder certainly pans out an engaging casino shootout, demonstrating well his advanced zombies and the mutations that make them an even stronger force to face. Although nothing quite seems to be as much of a challenge for any of the, sometimes busy, ensemble cast than a mattress poses for Dave Bautista – very much the leader of the pack, the character whose eyes we see most of the film’s events through.

While we have Bautista as the figure with whom we spend the most time we get little time to form a connection with anyone else. Leading to a lack of tension in certain high-stakes scenes when close action with the undead is involved. Boosted by the fact that a lot of the time the decision has been made for the majority of the screen to be out of focus. Often only one character or detail is in focus, likely to draw attention to just this and allow for the detail to be further recognised. However, instead it’s the largely out of focus areas that draw attention and somehow to prove an oddly distracting visual choice – particularly in the exterior scenes. The overall distanced connection causes some of the more emotional and personal beats of the film to fall flat, and therefore adds to the feeling of the run-time in the scenes between the core heist and action set-pieces. Moments which stand out as well-executed big budget B-movie style pieces of entertainment in an otherwise uneven mixture of less direct, lengthy scenes.

While it has a number of good ideas, and certainly some engaging action and heist sequences, Army Of The Dead is overall too long and busy to be an overall satisfying watch, even one where you can properly turn off to embrace it.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Rare Beasts – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 30 minutes, Director – Billie Piper

Single mother Mandy (Billie Piper) finds her life crumbling around her as she continues a relationship with misogynistic co-worker Pete (Leo Bill).

It feels unlikely that we’ll see a bigger, more punchable villain than Pete (Leo Bill) this year. For much of Rare Beasts’ run-time the audience, alongside Billie Piper’s central figure Mandy, are subjected to his misogynistic tirades that are passed off as traditionalist views. Evidence that this is a major understatement appears in the opening scene where he spits, as if he’s just been wrongfully attacked “women these days have got more testosterone coursing through their veins than blood”. Piper’s film, her directorial debut, pitches this opening scene like a first date gone wrong. Pete speaks his mind openly and it makes for plenty of unbelievable and awkward moments that pitch two totally opposite characters. However, the relationship doesn’t stop here. Mandy continues to see Pete and is continuously held back by him.

Alongside the repression she experiences from her relationship Mandy finds herself silenced, alongside the other women she works with, in her TV pitch think-group job. At home she tries to balance looking after her potentially autistic young son Larch (Toby Woolf) with dealing with the distant, feuding, relationship between her parents (Kerry Fox and David Thewlis). It’s apparent that her life is crumbling around her. Yet, Piper finds ways to integrate elements of fantasy within the film. Fantasy that still feels real and fits within the world of the film. It’s present as Mandy is herself, away from the toxic spoutings of Bill’s, although brilliantly performed, utterly obnoxious chauvinist.

When walking through the streets of London Mandy occasionally passes stressed individuals repeating to themselves assurances that despite their worries “I still love and respect myself”. It’s something she finds herself mentally repeating to herself, however more in terms of the relationship that she finds herself uncertain as to how she still remains there, or perhaps unsure as to how to leave it. As the film proceeds Piper’s character changes, and not exactly for the better. Her stresses are brought to the fore and she finds herself juggling multiple elements of her personal life while being told by the person who is supposed to be her ‘romantic’ partner that she has “terrible energy” – there are points where the relationship feels reminiscent of that in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. Her life is spiralling, pulled backwards and forwards, upwards and downwards. Growing in confidence, challenging toxicity within her workplace while making little progress in talking to her alcoholic father and the “classic male bullsh!t” that surrounds her. It’s apparent that the fantasy is draining from her life, gradually bit by bit, well managed by Piper’s direction.

Through and through this is Piper’s film. She leads us into fantasy that’s grounded in the real world and prepares us for crashing back to the realisation that this is indeed where we are. And more so just who we’re with at that point. Hope comes with struggle which gradually turns into pain and anger before that translates into passionate outbursts for freedom. It blends together to form a fine character piece, observing a disastrous relationship that you, like Mandy, feel stuck in. It’s more than a lingering bad date and the film puts that feeling across well. There’s plenty present to engage with and there are certainly plenty of emotional responses from scene to scene that truly take you on the course that the central figure travels and develops across throughout the short 90 minute run-time of the film. It establishes a new voice in British writing (adding to the success of her co-created, with Lucy Prebble, hit show I Hate Suzie) and directing. One who knows just how to craft characters and place you right next to them on their personal journeys and formations.

Billie Piper’s directorial debut is a strong piece of character work, helped by two strong central performances that truly capture the toxic repression that her character faces. Blended with additional real world fantasy Rare Beasts is a fine observation of character unlocking.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

PIFF 2021: When All That’s Left Is Love – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 17 minutes, Director – Eric Gordon

Director Eric Gordon documents the love between his parents as his mother assists his father as he declines with Alzheimer’s.

There’s no denying the highly personal nature of Eric Gordon’s When All That’s Left Is Love. It’s a stripped-back, non-flash, basics feature; in some ways very much alike to a home movie. It’s an unfortunate family portrait as he documents his mother, Marilyn, caring for his father, Sheldon “Shelley” as he deteriorates from Alzheimer’s. That nature in which the film is shot, we see Marilyn caring for her husband, through her own love, frustration and heartbreak, adds to the impact that it has, and the personal feelings that it puts across to the viewer. It helps to form a connection with both those shown and the emotional topics covered. As we see both figures breakdown through their own personal struggles there’s certainly an emotional punch that knocks you back, and for many could make for a tough, but honest, watch.

Where the personal connection doesn’t lie as much is perhaps with some of the other subjects we meet. Couples who are also living through Alzheimer’s, trying to provide care for their partners who they have loved for many years, in many instances their best friends. Perhaps this is because the core connection with with Marilyn and Sheldon, they are after all the parents of the filmmaker. The glimpses into other lives and stories do have an impact and leave a mark, however because of the amount of time we spend with them the core focus is absolutely those with whom we share the most pain and heartbreak. One scene in particular sees Sheldon breaking down on a cruise ship, it’s difficult to watch as you feel you want to help but aren’t sure as to what to do. Instead seeing how Marilyn attempts to cope and deal with her situation in such an enclosed, isolated space – as has become her own home. We truly witness what one doctor describes as something which “becomes a disease for the family members”

Not just a series of events in a couple’s life When All That’s Left Is Love is a film that lives up to, and demonstrates, its title. Even the various other figures we see over the course of the short, yet impactful, 77 minute run-time, further prove this point as their bond remains strong and dedicated to each other. Gordon highlights the work that familial caregivers provide, what they do with very little help, assistance and respite; if none at all. After the previous year the film may have an extra layer of poignancy and relevance, adding to the overall effect of the film. Personal from multiple angles When All That’s Left Is Love is an emotional gut-punch that observes love in a time of unfortunate deterioration for both involved in the relationship. It brings you in through the caring nature of core relationship and thanks to its home movie style emphasises such feelings and makes for a strong depiction of both part of a couple’s journey, and an individual one through the tough landscape of Alzheimer’s.

Helped by a highly personal home movie style When All That’s Left Is Love works best when focusing on the loving struggle of the filmmaker’s parents, while still providing some insight into and appreciation for into familial caregiving.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

PIFF 2021: Pioneers In Skirts – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour, Director – Ashley Maria

Documentary looking at the gap towards gender equality in different industries, and what can be, and has been, done to help close it.

Director Ashley Maria’s Pioneers In Skirts is a film that spends no time wasted, getting straight to the facts. Instantly telling the viewer that women’s ambition to reach the top in multiple industries plummets from 43% to 16% in just two years. Constantly not given the opportunity to progress and make their way to something bigger there’s a real passion and drive to Maria’s film – “we all have a role to play in this illusion” she states. Having won a Student DGA in 2010 for her short film Friday Night Fright there are few additional directing credits to her name. In Pioneers In Skirts she sets out to look at the gender gap in terms of equality in a handful of different industries, primarily TV and film, and what can be done to give women more opportunities.

It’s a fight that has been going on for years, with its early fighters and pioneers brought to the fore early on in the film. TV director Joan Darling mentions “I’m in my 80s and I’m still struggling”, just the start of a developing fight that’s been brought more and more to the attention of the masses, however there’s still more to do. It’s made clear and the film itself is part of a personal fight for all those involved. A variety of people are interviewed and give their insights to the knockbacks they’ve experienced simply because of their gender. From veterans of the film industry to high-school girls competing in a tech event there’s a number of glimpses into different people trying to make advances in their respective world and industries and their ambition certainly leaves a mark on the viewer.

With so much happening and a number of interesting perspectives looked into it all seems to fit nicely into the short one hour run-time of the film. There’s no fighting for space amongst the various themes that are covered. There’s even time to show pride in advancements such as the female version of Ghostbusters and Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico in Star Wars – when either example appears on screen it feels like a punch the air moment simply because of the impact that they made, and also because of their general presence. It shows the effect that the film has, one with a positive outlook for change instead of dwelling on the negatives. This comes from the drive and determination of Maria, those she interviews and who also take part in table discussions with her. It’s a hopeful film and has an impact because of that, looking at the ground-up development that is being made, and that also needs to be made. Bringing you in early on with its facts and established points and keeping you in place through the hope that it provides and the personal passion that is emitted from the determined minds involved.

With passion and drive from all involved there’s a real sense of hope throughout Pioneers In Skirts as it works its way through various industries with its determined aim of finding ways to remove the gender equality gap.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

PIFF 2021: Sum Of Us – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Anthony Meindl

A series of short stories linked by the actors talking about their connections to performing.

“Don’t do it unless you really can’t live without it” is the advice of one of the various actors taking part in this quasi-anthology film. Each section is divided up by a new subject being asked about their connection to performing, what they think it offers them, some as acting students, and other people. This quote is a piece of advice is what the figure on screen would give as advice to teenage girls wanting to get into acting, or do anything in life. They divide up a series of multiple short stories that while initially unlinked manage to form a very slight narrative, with loose links from character to character.

As the film develops, an some of the themes and ideas throughout it, points about the relationships between young and old begin to come to the fore of the piece. Such themes increase over the course of the film and allow for a better connection with the piece and the later stories that appear. While initially interesting they only appear as short bursts of insights to various characters’ lives, then developing into something more. Stories covering two or three ten minute patches being to become slightly more involving as they develop with a bigger story, instead of a patch of time in someone’s life. It becomes more engaging and interesting over time, slightly helped by the connections that the actors have with the pieces that they are acting out – emphasising the feeling and ideas of performing being a true escape that the actors are working on.

What further helps this is the fact that in most cases the actors appear to work well together, and give good performances. Helping with the mostly two-hander scenarios, further establishing the drama class style that the piece pushes across. It holds interest and as more themes and ideas come forward and properly establish themselves as links between the segments the film becomes overall more enjoyable and perhaps satisfying, instead of feeling like a lengthy series of unrelated vignettes. Overall there’s a decent enough piece of work here, perhaps more for actors than anyone else; but still there’s enough there of interest to engage the more casual viewers to this project.

Once it establishes itself as more than just a series of loosely linked scenes Sum Of Us is an interesting look into the connection that some people have with acting, especially when looking at the differences between old and young in the later stages of the piece.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

PIFF 2021: The Big Kitty – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 10 minutes, Directors – Tom Alberts, Lisa Barmby

When Russian princess’ (Lisa Barmby) beloved cat goes missing a private detective (Tom Alberts) is called in to search the city for the valuable feline.

An homage to the noir films of 40’s Hollywood, husband and wife duo Tom Alberts and Lisa Barmby’s feature The Big Kitty feels right at home amongst classic ZAZ comedies such as Airplane and The Naked Gun. It’s script packed full of wonderfully silly gags from one-liners to quick visual jokes there’s plenty to keep the viewer amused and entertained over the 70 minute course of the film. Sewn in amongst the comedy is the story of a Russian princess (Barmby), who after visiting the Catabianca club finds, in a brief cut of the lights, her beloved cat – “Oh, the fuzz” – stolen. Luckily, “no, I’m a private detective” Guy Borman (Alberts) is on the case. Questioning the frequent patrons of the club and bar for any trace of the valuable pet.

His journey takes him not just to the streets and dark alleyways of the city, but to seances to communicate with the “spirits of the nether regions”. Such lines are delivered with such bluntness or brevity, or even both, that the humour naturally finds its way to the viewer. And while in a number of films a line such as this might not work there’s something about The Big Kitty, perhaps the attention that it plays to its setting, that allows for it to work and be a consistently funny film. Raising many chuckles and laughs along the way. A low budget appears to have been used effectively to properly make the most of the 40’s style and setting, in fact it works to the films advantage in a number of cases, especially when it comes to a handful of the visual gags, that do also feel as if they could have been pulled from a noir film of that era – again linking back to that ZAZ feel. Yet, the film never feels like a rip-off, parody or even copycat (no pun intended) version of such piece. It is very much its own piece that has been carefully made by a small team, who also all appear to have had a lot of fun making this.

Their work has more than paid off, also allowing for the viewer to have an enjoyable time watching the finished product. The hit rate of the gags, even for a number of the running jokes, is high. Never feeling flashy or in your face, perhaps the use of the budget adds to this? Instead simply happening and moving on, adding to the feel of the film and helping with the flow and pacing that it establishes early on. Even with a short run-time the film doesn’t feel as if its missing anything or that it could do more to extend itself, it doesn’t even feel as if it wants to be over and done with, it simply seems to know what it wants to do and does it in a highly entertaining way. Far from spoof or parody, particularly of the kind that we have become used to in the 21st Century, The Big Kitty is a fond look at genre, adding humour and friendly nudges (although never exactly towards the viewer in the hope they recognise a joke) of conventions and clichés within it. Utilising setting, tone and story for effective laughs and homage paying.

Very much in the style of classic ZAZ comedies The Big Kitty is a well utilised feature that while being consistently funny with plenty of silly gags pays homage to Hollywood noirs of the 40s.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

PIFF 2021: The Prison Within – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 25 minutes, Director – Katherin Hervey

Convicted criminals sit down to openly discuss the root of their crimes with victims present.

“We can’t rewind the clock for ourselves, but we can surely remove the obstacles for other people”. This is one of the many thoughtful, incisive quotes that can be pulled out from director Katherin Hervey’s The Prison Within. A film looking at the restorative justice programme in place at San Quentin State Prison, where convicted criminals meet up in a group to discuss their crimes and what may have been the root for them. These are open, often emotional, conversations, looking into previous traumas and hard pasts. It’s interesting to see the almost instant development that these figures go through – some of whom have life sentences for murder – and the perspectives that they provide, knowing that they’ve done wrong.

Hervey simply observes the conversations and allows them to naturally occur. There’s respect within the group as each person realises something about themselves and what they did, and why. One of the most affecting things said over the course of the film is simply “thank you for honouring me with that question”. Even when victims are introduced and are welcomed into the conversation – there’s heart-wrenching tension as a woman is 50 feet away from death row, where an inmate who murdered her boyfriend is – things remain insightful and civil; really having an impact on the viewer. It adds to the punches that the film naturally pulls as the discussions develop and become increasingly personal – those taking part breaking down into tears as they relieve their pasts and get to the root of what might have led them to commit the crimes they did years later.

This isn’t just a film that looks at how to tackle prisoners after crimes, it looks at how people can be helped from a young age, those in similar scenarios to those in the prison. Points relating to educating children before the crime are shown taking effect in the outside world, alongside the continuing development of those who have been let back into the world. There’s a sense of uplift and joy as you see those involved in the programme using what they have learned to better their communities by educating those around them, and themselves. People begin to teach each other, “teaching me about love, they’re teaching me about pain”.

There are plenty of perspectives shown throughout the film, and not just tackling elements inside of the prison walls. Questions are effectively asked to both the viewer and the inmates, and even those who have faced the consequences and harsh impacts of other people’s crimes. And there are a handful of thoughtful and open insights and comments of regret and revelation. Summing up finely the well-connected themes and ideas that the film puts across thanks to its observations and interviews. All of which are pieced together to create an emotional, engaging and interesting view into a seemingly effective form of restorative justice that brings the viewer in to connect with the personal thoughts and experiences of the members of the group at the heart of the film.

There’s plenty of emotion, thoughtful openness and consideration on display in The Prison Within, it makes for a personal connection with the film’s themes and the affecting thoughts and ideas that they have.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Woman In The Window – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 41 minutes, Director – Joe Wright

A child psychologist (Amy Adams) witnesses the murder of her new neighbour (Julianne Moore), however finds herself being disbelieved and seemingly having her claims proved wrong.

We know that Amy Adams’ child psychologist Dr. Anna Fox is meant to be perceived as perhaps mentally unstable from her untidy hair; loose-fitting, somewhat dishevelled, clothing and flustered, panicked look. Seemingly stricken by past trauma she spends her days mostly reclusive, aside from seeing her therapist (Tracy Letts) and lodger, David (Wyatt Russell). However, soon after new neighbours move in across the road from her she breaks her rule of almost never opening the door to anyone and meets teenage Ethan (Fred Hechinger). As the two get to know each other they gradually get to bonding over Anna’s collection of classic films – some of which she seems to know word for word. During such discussions Anna seems more relaxed and less worried about the world outside of her house. The same somewhat goes for her evening spent consuming vast amounts of wine (more so than she might normally do during the day) with Ethan’s mysterious mother, Kate (Julianne Moore).

It appears the only member of the Russell family who gives Anna a cold reception is blunt and angered father and husband Alistair (Gary Oldman). It’s partly this that leads Anna to believe he’s responsible for Kate’s death – which she witnesses when observing those living on the opposite side of the street from her window. However, after calling the police (Jeanine Serralles, and the always welcome presence of Bryan Tyree Henry) it’s revealed that Kate is very much alive, and looks completely different (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Anna is simply branded as delusional, violently warned by Alistair – in a series of statements that suggest that this isn’t Oldman’s best performance, having previously won an Oscar for his leading role in director Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour – “you’re f**king with the wrong family”. However, continue to f**k she does as she delves into the mystery and attempts to prove that what she saw was true.

There are plenty of elements that have been, understandably so, compared many times to Rear Window, and Hitchcock in general. Such elements are present within the piece, and it does create a somewhat by-the-numbers feel, although one that’s still watchable. Where the film does begin to slip and lose itself is in the various monologues and lengthier scenes that it throws across in the second half. Perhaps the subject of a tumultuous production such moments begin to feel more like rambles than emotionally engaging character beats that you can properly engage with. By the time the third act arrives things dramatically change, and not exactly for the better. Things go from by-the-numbers to boring to silly. Filled with clichés the film advances into overblown, fake feeling, fights and reveals. Feeling like an inauthentic caricature it shifts to a completely different tone to anything that has been seen in the middling 80 or so minutes beforehand.

All further boosting the thought that this particular feature would potentially work better as a short film. Certainly the pacing and introduction of new ideas in the first 40 minutes of The Woman In The Window’s run-time create this impression. It’s fine, but feels as if a lot of it could be cut down and turned into an effective and more involving short film. Not losing the viewer due to lengthy scenes or lack of overall engagement, and perhaps stopping the overdone ending. Perhaps a result of a messy production – and a victim of Disney’s purchase of Fox – the finished product is a somewhat lacklustre use of talent that never quite has the tension or shocks that it would perhaps hope for.

If The Woman In The Window remained the by-the-numbers piece it starts out as it would be fine, however with an overdone final 20 minutes it falters and completely loses the viewer, after partly doing so with its lengthy scenes and monologues.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

PIFF 2021: Tyrants Of Tomorrow Telethon – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Christopher Shorr

Former dictators Carlo Supremo (Christopher Shorr) and Jefe Pablo (James P. Jordan) host a telethon to raise money to support future dictators, however a production assistant (Emma Ackerman) has had enough of the various guests (Mary Wright) and their messages.

The Tyrants Of Tomorrow Telethon, an annual event held to raise money for future dictators – “dictators aren’t born, they’re made”. Amongst this year’s faces are “Iraqi Balboa” Saddam Hussein, everyone’s favourite “wacky neighbour” Muammar Gadaffi, and Joseph Stalin, teaching a vodka-fuelled dance lesson entitled the Autocratic Tactic. However, these aren’t just the regular faces that we’ve come to know and fear. In this adaptation of Touchstone Theatre’s musical Dictators 4 Dummies, featuring the same cast members, the characters take the form of dolls. It would be easy to make comparisons to Team America: World Police, and while there is a flavour of that here there’s something slightly less animated about the figures used here. It takes a bit of time to get used to the presences of the dolls, and the general style of the film, however it’s after a while it’s possible to.

This year’s telethon is hosted by fictional former dictator Carols Supremo (writer-director Christopher Shorr), and his recently reunited friend Jefe Pablo (James P. Jordan). They, alongside their various guests, make clear throughout that “we’re all here for the children”, providing them lessons in how to be a dictator in song form. Gadaffi (Mary Wright provides the voices and various accents for the guest hosts) sings a song about misinformation, fake news and denial with a felt-puppet version of himself. With such themes you can’t help but think that a number of points made over the course of the film’s run-time are perhaps meant to ring true for the Trump presidency, amongst the current landscape of modern politics. Such links are felt and understood however the satire never quite comes through leaving the viewer slightly pushed away. Little Timmy Hitler teaching the recipe to [scape]goat does raise a couple of chuckles, but for the most part the ideas seem like those better on paper, or in the live-action theatre environment than with dolls delivering the more physical elements such as dance numbers.

At the back of the telethon’s set, controlling the mayhem backstage, is Emma Ackerman’s production assistant. She sees dictators come and go, spouting their damaging beliefs and messages for ultimate political control and silencing, feeling her voice angrily rising up in protest with each new plastic face that appears on-screen. Unfortunately this line doesn’t start until a fair way through the film and so initially feels like a brief side-point until quickly fully forming, or moulding into, the main messages of the film – there isn’t exactly a major plotline, which isn’t a bad thing. You just wish that you could have spent more detailed time with the character earlier on. It would certainly stop the more scene-to-scene, character-to-character nature of stages feeling that the film has from being as present.

There are plenty of points and comments made within Tyrants Of Tomorrow Telethon to reflect the state of modern politics, particularly the recent Trump administration, however the humour of the satire doesn’t always come through. That being said the film format does allow for the mock-telethon format to be fully embraced, and the creators have fun with this through the use of amusing graphics that appear on screen after the cast of dictators reel off more dubious advice for young future world leaders. The dolls certainly don’t act as a distraction, however the feeling that this likely works better in a live-action format, and even as the theatre musical that it started out as, does come to mind every now and then throughout.

Raising plenty of reflective satirical points throughout, the humour of Tyrants Of Tomorrow Telethon doesn’t always come through. The lack of plot is fine, however a handful of character points do perhaps come into play a bit too late.

Rating: 2 out of 5.