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last update 18.Jul.07
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Air Guitar Nation   4/5
This raucously entertaining documentary about one of the silliest competitions on the planet actually has a serious message about the power of "airness" to change the world. Well, maybe.

The Air Guitar World Championships have been held in Oulu, Finland, for eight years, but there's never been an American competitor. So two fans (Devitt and Rucker) stage a regional competition in New York, which singles out winner C-Diddy (Jung) and tenacious challenger Bjorn Turoque (Crane). Off they go to Los Angeles to take on the western winner (Hintz); and it's C-Diddy who'll represent the USA in Finland. There, he meets the reigning world champion (Munro) for an introduction into the fierce global competition. And once again Bjorn turns up as a wild-card challenger.

Through interviews and a gripping narrative structure, filmmaker Lipsitz gets us well into the heads of these big-hair rockers, looking at how it feels to be a rock god for one minute. The film's structure and style owe a lot to Spinal Tap (naturally), and we can see participants trying to keep a straight face as they say the most outrageously hilarious things. The result is a lively, irreverent and thoroughly engaging film about normal people who live the high life by creating the purest kind of stage persona--an emperor with no clothes. And no guitar.

Their sheer energy is infectious, as is the sharp-edged humour of both Jung and Crane. As an actor-comedian, Jung shows a willingness to go for broke on stage in a way that takes everyone by surprise. He wryly observes that maybe this is his one chance to be the best in the world at something, and we understand.

Meanwhile Crane is so likeable that even his "make air not war" posturing feels genuine ("If you're holding an air guitar, you can't hold a rifle," he says). But then, this particular World Championship was in 2003 when, as he observes, "American isn't looking too good in the world." It's these touches that lift the film beyond its sublimely ridiculous groin-strumming, scissor-kicking antics. You'll want to go out and buy Motorhead's The Ace of Spades immediately to practice. See you in Oulu!

dir Alexandra Lipsitz
with Dan Crane, David Jung, Zac Munro, Ian Stafford, Gordon Hintz, Cedric Devitt, Kriston Rucker, Kim Shapiro, Tappani Launonen, Mark Hadfield, Kris Achten, Mike Kaden
crane as bjorn turoque release US 23.Mar.07,
UK 9.Nov.07
07/US 1h21

jung as c-diddy

15 themes, language
3.Jul.07
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Buy It Now (Virginity for Sale)   3.5/5
buy it now There's a certain genius to this two-part feature that forces us to examine our culture in twisted, complicated ways. Even so, it's rather indulgent, making one hour feel more like three.

Part I is a home video documentary shot by 16-year-old Chelsea as she sells her virginity on eBay. She's egged on by her friend Stacy to earn some quick, easy cash, while her mother (DeWitt) is completely oblivious. And her ensuing depression comes as a big shock. Part II tells the same story as a narrative film, still shot on home video, but with discernible camera work, story structure and some fairly strong moralising. Now her friend is the more fun-loving Tiffany, and we see all of Chelsea's encounter with the buyer (McCann).

Any filmmaker who thanks Bergman and Fassbinder in the credits can be labelled as just a little pretentious. Campos' double-pronged approach to the same story is both extremely mannered and thoroughly intriguing. With the doc version, he removes the distance, making us a participant in the distasteful and disturbing events. Then watching it as a drama adds a different wrinkle, which can also be read as a continuation: after selling her virtue, Chelsea sells her story. She doesn't just want a Prada handbag, she wants stardom.

These aspects make this film impossible to ignore. Part I is understandably raw and rough, with performances that are worryingly realistic, while Part II awkwardly combines the same awful video quality with more mannered acting and pushy scripting. Meanwhile, Logan delivers two distinct performances, and both are excellent (the first is better for its sheer transparency).

Where the film transcends its crude, brief forms is in the strong issues Campos raises. This is a potent examination of a society that's falling apart, with parents who are too busy to notice what's happening with their children. After seeing that the self-harming Chelsea is deeply distressed, her mother says, "If something's going on, talk to your therapist about it."

Then there's the consumerism. Accessories are worth more than personal dignity; eBay is only concerned that Chelsea's selling her virginity in the wrong section of the website. Stacy's argument is that "sex isn't such a big deal, and you're going to make so much money." Which seems rather logical if your role models are Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

dir-scr Antonio Campos
with Chelsea Logan, Rosemarie DeWitt, Stacy Jordan, Tiffany Yaraghi, Christopher McCann
logan release UK 20.Jul.07
05/US 1h02

CANNES FLM FEST
RAINDANCE FLM FEST
18 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
17.Jul.07
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I for India   4.5/5 SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
I for India This intriguing, involving documentary works beautifully both as an intensely personal family history and as an intriguing comment on today's global culture.

In 1966 at age 33, Yash Pal Suri moved to England with his wife and daughter to continue his education as a doctor. He bought two sets of Super 8 cameras, projectors and reel-to-reel recorders, and sent one set home to his family in India. Over the years, they sent film and tapes back and forth--Yash's images of life in Britain are answered with clips of weddings, funerals and village life back home.

Through it all, there's a sense of longing. Yash still feels the call of his homeland, but knows that staying in England will give him more career opportunities and a better life for his three daughters. Meanwhile, his parents and brother continually ask him when he is returning home. "I wasn't the only one who believed in the myth of returning," he says. And even though they often felt like misfits in Britain (especially during the surge of Thatcher-fuelled nationalism in the 1970s), it was 17 years before they returned to India.

Youngest daughter Sandhya assembles this film beautifully, compiling a wealth of audio and cinematic correspondence along with present-day interviews and some priceless archive footage. This is done with wit and emotion, insightfully expressing the blending of two cultures and the difficulties of assimilation and homesickness. She also includes astute sequences that mark the passage of time over nearly 40 years, as the same hard decisions come back to challenge the following generation.

What sets this apart is its intimate tone, as the film gets deep into the souls of these people, examining their changing perspectives. An especially vivid section demonstrates in a complex way why you can never really go home again. The film is packed with engaging segments, including a 1971 disco party, holidays to the seaside (complete with the Blackpool lights) and even a webcam chat in 2005. And along the way we get sharp comments on xenophobia, culture clashes and where home really lies. This is a wonderful film, assembled with heart, passion and warm humour. Any family that's ever been divided by an ocean will treasure it.

dir-scr Sandhya Suri
with Yash Pal Suri, Sheel Suri, Neeraj Suri, Vanita Suri, Sandhya Suri
seaside holiday
release US 4.Dec.06,
UK 3.Aug.07
06/UK Fandango 1h10

SUNDANCE FLM FEST
PG themes
4.Jul.07
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In the Hands of the Gods   3.5/5
in the hands of the gods This engaging narrative documentary follows five football freestylers busking their way from Britain to Argentina to meet their hero Maradona. Of course, nothing goes as planned, which makes the film thoroughly entertaining.

Wood (aka Woody), Robinson, Fisher, Lynch and Bassam are nervous about leaving their families and girlfriends for six weeks, but they all need this quest. With a camera crew, they fly to New York sure that Americans will love their street performances and throw money at them. But it's not quite that simple. Eventually they make it to Memphis, Dallas and Acapulco, but cash-flow problems force them to split into two and then three groups, taking very different routes to Buenos Aires. And it's their internal journeys that make the film resonate.

Woody is an obsessive self-starter who makes a living as a freestyler, although he always wanted to play with a team. Danny never knew his dad, and is facing the prospect of fatherhood with his girlfriend, which means he needs to snap out of his lazy lifestyle. The hothead Mike's world fell apart when his two best buddies, also freestylers, were killed in car accidents. Jeremy is soft-spoken, deeply religious and considered Europe's best freestyler; he struggles with his friends' bad language and lusty behaviour. And Sami is a Somalian refugee with a tragic past and a criminal record who sees this trip as a chance to prove that he can get back on track.

The camera follows unobtrusively as they travel with no plan whatsoever, scamming food and accommodations while staging their football trickery for cash (although you suspect the filmmakers at least paid for that first flight). Highlights along the way include bonding with a rural Guatemalan family, meeting a bizarre pair of Hollywood wannabes and being shown up by a Rio beach performer. While the lows, and the film's most telling scenes, are their divisive arguments and painful self-examinations.

The freewheeling structure makes the film great fun to watch, as we travel this epic 15,000-mile pilgrimage with these naive and audacious guys, aged 17 to 22, who struggle to let go of their selfishness (even their performances are individualistic). It's these details that add meaning and emotion to this lively and often raucous adventure.

dir Gabe Turner, Benjamin Turner
with Paul Wood, Danny Robinson, Mike Fisher, Jeremy Lynch, Sami Hall, Daniel Arcucci, Fernando, Diego Maradona
wood release 14.Sep.07
07/UK 1h40
15 themes, language
25.Jun.07
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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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