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last update 23.Aug.06
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Adam & Steve   3.5/5
Goofy and engaging, Chester moves from acting to writing-directing with this enjoyable romantic comedy about two men, and their best friends, in love.

When lonely New Yorker Adam (Chester) meets nice doctor Steve (Gets), their relationship develops so quickly that it seems too good to be true, including meeting the deranged parents (Hagerty and Sand, Dillon and Kopache). But they actually met 17 years earlier, when then-goth Adam and glitter dancer Steve had a disastrous encounter. When they remember this, neither can cope. Now it's up to Adam's comedian pal Rhonda (Posey) and Steve's slobby flatmate Michael (Kattan) to sort things out--as they fall for each other.

Chester clearly has a lifetime of gags up his sleeve. Beginning with the amusingly ridiculous flashback to 1987 ("I'm the only gay guy in the city who works out"; "George Michael is so straight"), he pokes riotous fun at every area where pop culture meets sexuality in ways that are smart, wacky and even sweet. He also includes topical gags and pointed comments on serious issues like addiction and how people have cashed in on 9/11.

But his main focus is on vulgar slapstick and cheap jokes that make us laugh despite ourselves. Rhonda's stand-up routines are hysterically wrong, and Michael's the only guy who gets them. Of course, Posey and Kattan clown it up delightfully, while Chester and Gets build strong chemistry that's cute, sexy and often hilarious. Chester delivers his bone-dry dialog in such an astute way that we're never quite sure if he's kidding. Which is kind of the point of the whole film.

As a writer-director, Chester has a nicely observational approach, while sharply examining strong issues with barbed-but-zany comedy. Homophobia is treated as a running gag, which is very bold (and possibly tasteless). But he also makes several important points without preaching or getting angry about it, which is impressive. The main argument is that this isn't a same-sex romance at all; it's a film about two people who find each other. Then we get to the fabulous musical finale, and it's a gay world after all.

dir-scr Craig Chester
with Craig Chester, Malcolm Gets, Parker Posey, Chris Kattan, Melinda Dillon, Julie Hagerty, Paul Sand, Thomas Kopache, Michael Panes, Kristen Schaal, Noah Segan, Sally Kirkland
chester and gets
release US 31.Mar.06,
UK 21.Aug.06 dvd
05/US TLA 1h39


15 themes, language, vulgarity, drugs
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Flight 93   2.5/5
Not to be confused with Paul Greengrass' amazing feature United 93, this film was made for American television and takes a much more traditional approach to the story, including lots of wrenching dramatisation.

The story is told from several angles as the day progresses: the crew readies for a routine flight from Newark to San Francisco, passengers board and the terrorists blend into the crowd. Then as the hijackers take the plane, and tragedy unfolds at the World Trade Center, we see air traffic controllers, airline flight centres, flashbacks and, mainly, phone conversations between passengers and their families on the ground as they realise there's no choice but to retake the plane.

It's very well filmed, in a no-nonsense sort of way, contrasting the daily tedium with the extraordinary events on 11 September 2001. The film centres on a few key conversations--Tom Burnett (Nordling) and his wife (Cross), Todd Beamer (Elliott) and a phone company employee (Michaell), Mark Bingham (Olsson) and his mother (Norry). As they pass information back and forth, we can see the full picture dawning to them all. And it's extremely chilling.

But perhaps this is part of the problem: the film is put together for us to watch what happens, not to participate with them. Unlike United 93, which throws us right into the situation, this film creates movie-style characters and uses editing, handheld cinematography, music and dramatic licence to heighten both the suspense and the emotion. Especially as it concentrates on each call home, with the I love yous, I'll miss yous and the Lord's prayer.

It's a strong script that vividly pays homage to the victims, but it's also simplistic and straightforward. And the hopeful coda is, frankly, a little bit wrong. This approach strangely undercuts the actual tragedy of the day itself, never capturing that sense of dread as we watched the World Trade Center engulfed with smoke, and all that it meant.

dir Peter Markle
scr Nevin Schreiner
with Jeffrey Nordling, Brennan Elliott, Kendall Cross, Ty Olsson, Monnae Michaell, Colin Glazer, April Amber Telek, Laura Mennell, Marilyn Norry, Amin Nazemzadeh, Gwynyth Walsh, Jacqueline Ann Steuart
the hijackers release US 30.Jan.06 tv; UK 26.Jun.06 dvd
06/US Fox 1h30
See also: UNITED 93
15 themes, strong violence
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Night Watch 4/5   Ronda Nocturna
Lyrical and atmospheric, this trip through the Buenos Aires underworld is engaging and extremely unnerving, simply because it's so beautiful. Although underneath, it's pretty bleak.

It's just another night on the street for Victor (Heredia), a young rent boy who seems to know everyone from the rows of hustlers in the alleyways to the rich cop (Dayton) who exchanges protection for favours. Victor actually makes more money from dealing drugs than selling sex, and this life has left him haunted by incidents from his past. Now he's sure someone's trying to kill him, so he doesn't let anyone too close. Although when an old friend (Ferro) appears, he can relax for a little while. Or can he?

Writer-director Cozarinsky takes such a playful approach that we're completely disarmed. Despite the subject matter, the film isn't gritty at all--it's liquid and dreamlike, funny and sweet. The limited dialog and moody Latin score add to the gently rhythmic tone. Victor's life feels carefree; everyone on the street seems to be enjoying themselves immensely. But there's a constant undercurrent of peril, real or imagined, that keeps them on our toes. And we have to watch carefully as well.

As the story progresses, the suspense builds gradually. These people are so bracingly real that we begin to identify with them before we realise it. The sharp humour and apparently aimless structure are thoroughly seductive. Heredia is relaxed and likeable, and we just drift along with him through the city. As a result, the film feels like a slightly superficial ode to nightlife in Buenos Aires.

But it's the flickers of mortality that give the film its edge. Whether they're real or imagined is beside the point. The film also touches on the hopes all prostitutes have of finding a wealthy john to take them away, plus of course oblique references to Aids, a word these people can't even utter. When near the end Victor is visited by an old friend (Anghileri), she seems like the Angel of Death. And it doesn't help that she says, "Yes, it's me. You're not dreaming."

dir-scr Edgardo Cozarinsky
with Gonzalo Heredia, Moro Anghileri, Rafael Ferro, Darío Tripicchio, Gregg Dayton, Susana Varela, Diego Cunill, Jana Bokova, Roman Chiaposki, Diego Trerotola, David Solana, Marcelo Iglesias
release Arg 19.May.05,
US 25.May.05 siff,
UK 21.Aug.06 dvd
05/Argentina 1h21
15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs, violence
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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?   4.5/5
Just what we've been waiting for: a two-disc special edition of the most deliriously inspired bitch-fest in movie history. This 1962 classic is screamingly camp, blackly hilarious and freakishly terrifying.

We open with a 1917 prologue, in which the monstrously spoiled child star Baby Jane Hudson (Allred) throws several tantrums while her jealous sister Blanche (Gillespie) lurks in the wings. Cut to 1935: Jane (now Davis) is now a no-talent starlet while Blanche (Crawford) turns out to be the great star. And then it's 1962: the crippled Blanche is held hostage in her own home by the maniacal Jane, who's determined to relaunch her career with the help of a creepy accompanist (Buono).

The performances are simply marvellous. Davis is off the flouncy-brassy scale as the vain and vicious Jane with her sagging ringlets and frightful makeup, torturing her sister in the worst ways imaginable. While Joan Crawford shines as the complex, intriguing Blanche--she's both steely and emotionally wrenching. Their twisty story is gripping and involving, especially as it gets seriously nasty. It's told in grand potboiler style, with big music and Hitchcockian intrigue, plus loads of innuendo and implications.

Aldrich shoots it with striking cinematography and lighting, keeping the atmosphere tense, creepy and blackly hilarious. The suspense sequences are expertly staged for maximum freak-out, and the story unfurls with brilliantly deranged twists and increasingly messy characters. It does drag on a bit, as Jane keeps foiling every attempt Blanche makes to get help. And the final sequence feels long and awkward.

But even though it was made in 1962, the film has a rough edge that feels much more contemporary. And there's a serious edge to this story of psychotic codependence. Not to mention a bracing examination of now the trappings of stardom makes people lose touch with reality, and how impossible it is to regain fame on your own terms (ask Leslie Nielsen, Cloris Leachman, Shelley Winters, Sylvester Stallone). It's essential cinema that really must be in every collection.

dir Robert Aldrich
scr Lukas Heller
with Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Maidie Norman, Anna Lee, BD Merrill, Marjorie Bennett, Julie Allred, Gina Gillespie, Dave Willock, Anne Barton, Robert Cornthwaite
davis and crawford release US 31.Oct.62
reissue UK 17.Jul.06 dvd
62/US Warner 2h09
12 themes, violence, language
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall