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last update 12.Jun.07
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Hamlet   2.5/5   aka: Fodor’s Hamlet
hamlet Filmmaker Fodor ambitiously tries to breathe new life into one of Shakespeare's most familiar plays, using the original Elizabethan dialog but updating the action to the present. It's interesting, but not that original.

It's the same story, only populated by 20-something Brits who use drugs and guns (plus swords) to face their problems. Hamlet (Belchambers) is urged by his father's ghost (Frail) to confront his murderous mother (Sherlock) and uncle/stepfather (Hanson). His best friend Horatio (Reddin-Clancy), who has a secret crush on him, thinks he's going mad. As does his girlfriend Ophelia (Sheffield). And it's the scheming of Polonia (Piechowiak) and the vengeful fury of her brother Laertes (Wing) that finally push everyone over the edge.

Changing the sex of two key characters adds some new subtext (although it arguably removes other implications). And Fodor films in striking video, using glaring whiteouts and thick shadows, extreme close-ups, multi-frame montage, claustrophobic sets and bleak coastlines. Stir in a lurid sound mix, and the film is at least infused with attitude and style--from a Kubrickian use of harsh light and a static camera to Lynchian density and even J-horror. Although some sequences feel more like video art than storytelling.

The main problem is that the dialog is impenetrable. Besides being anachronistic to the setting, it's badly mumbled. If you know the story, this isn't a real problem (if you don't, see Kenneth Branagh's definitive film instead). And it helps that some scenes are good fun, from the wacky gravedigger sequence to the rock-n-roll swordfight bloodbath finale.

The fresh-faced cast gives the story a contemporary feel. Belchambers is especially strong in the focal role. Reddin-Clancy has her moments as the loyal sidekick, as does Sheffield as the drug-addicted party girl; while Piechowiak clearly has fun as a vampy lesbian. But until the story settles down, it's hard to tell these three women apart. Fodor simply fails to clearly establish his characters. And some actors struggle with their roles.

As experimentalism, this film has cinematic value, especially for Shakespeare completists. But general audiences will find it difficult to sit through. And frankly, it's a bit pretentious to even try something like this with Hamlet, when so many of Shakespeare's plays haven't been adapted over and over again.

dir Alexander Fodor
scr William Shakespeare
with Wilson Belchambers, Katie Reddin-Clancy, Tallulah Sheffield, Lydia Piechowiak, James Frail, Jason Wing, Di Sherlock, Alan Hanson, Simon Nader, Keaton Makki, Max Davis, Alexander Fodor
Belchambers release UK May.07
07/UK 2h27
15 themes, language, drugs, violence
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Kenny   4/5
kenny This ingenious mock-doc is a portrait of an unsung hero who works in one of the ickiest jobs imaginable, and yet he's so deeply likeable that by the end we want to give him a hug. Well, almost.

In Melbourne, Kenny Smyth (Shane Jacobson) supplies temporary toilets for everything from street festivals to church fetes. He's not remotely oblivious to the revulsion he inspires in everyone he meets, including his brother and father (played by his real brother and father Clayton and Ronald), but he takes pride in his job. And even if his ex-wife couldn't cope with his career, she still can't turn their son (Jesse) against him. When he gets the chance to represent his firm at a toilet expo in Nashville, the trip could change his life.

Shot like a fly-on-the-wall video documentary, the film was shot completely on location as Shane worked alongside a real porta-loo crew (plus actors Davis and Dryden, playing colourful colleagues). The story is told in fine Aussie tradition, with bone-dry humour and satire that takes no prisoners with its pointed jabs and soft heart. Virtually every line contains a joke or pun about excrement (a rival's slogan: "We're number 1 with your number 2"), and once the shock value subsides, it's both genuinely funny and surprisingly sweet.

Essentially, this is a nonstop comedy about poo. But it's also an astute look at true human dignity--careers, families, romance, loyalty. Kenny is proud of the fact that he does his job well, and Shane beautifully combines inner resilience and true compassion with deadpan comical timing. "I don't do this job for the glory," he says, matter-of-factly. "No one is ever impressed by my career." He's a big teddy bear who lives alone and dotes on his son, finds love in an unexpected place and doesn't really mind being a member of society's untouchable class.

This side of his character adds some strong depth even when the plot stalls about two-thirds in. Some judicious editing would have kept it crackling, but it definitely sparks up again at the end with telling sequences involving Kenny's dad and brother, plus the climactic job at the Melbourne Cup. Smart and hilarious.

dir Clayton Jacobson
scr Clayton Jacobson, Shane Jacobson
with Shane Jacobson, Ronald Jacobson, Jesse Jacobson, Clayton Jacobson, Eve von Bibra, Morihiko Hasebe, Chris Davis, Ian Dryden, Glenn Preusker, Mark Robertson, Hayley Preusker, Kim Dryden
shane jacobson release Aus 17.Aug.06,
UK 28.Sep.07
06/Australia 1h43
15 themes, language, vulgarity
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Oh Happy Day   3/5
Oh Happy Day Solid production values and strong performances elevate this beyond most low-budget British comedies. There are some problems with the story, but it's still charming and entertaining.

Jonathan (Colquhoun) is a gay ad exec who has a daughter (Smart) with his friend Jasmine (Saunders). And he further complicates his life when he has a one-night stand with David (Billington), who then turns out to work for the firm's major new client, a pill that gives a sense of happiness. Jonathan wants to keep work and love separate, which annoys David. And it bugs Jonathan's colleague Neil (Polick) even more, since they've also had a brief fling, and now Neil is completely besotted.

Poitier directs with a sure hand, focusing on the characters and keeping the tone lighthearted. When the narrative lurches unevenly, we are engaged enough to go with it, even though several key events don't really make sense, such as a sudden explosion of bitterness and anger that comes out of nowhere only to drive David and Jonathan apart for dramatic purposes. Also, the large-scale ad campaign is more than a little clunky, as are some of the still-montage transitions. But the production design is exceptional for a first-time feature.

Meanwhile, the superb cast keeps us engaged in each storyline. Colquhoun is especially charming at the centre of the film, balancing Jonathan's family, work and romantic entanglements. Billington is also a fascinating physical and emotional presence--prickly and yet winning, even if his American accent wanders all over the continent (a rather baffling error, since the fact that he's American seems irrelevant). And both Saunders and Polick add terrific texture to their supporting roles.

Where the film gets interesting is in its examination of jealousy and expectations in the various relationships. The whole work-love thing is a constant issue in this film. And Jasmine wants more than an absent father for her daughter, but Jonathan needs more than a flatmate for a partner. The various relational conundrums in the story are becoming increasingly common in society, and even as it heads to a somewhat contrived happy ending, the film gently acknowledges that there are no simple answers.

dir-scr Ian Poitier
with Christopher Colquhoun, Stephen Billington, Julie Saunders, Chris Polick, Pooky Quesnel, Gerald Lepkowski, Topher Campbell, Tyler Smart, Hazel Palmer, Blanche Williams, Percy Duke, Tom Whitehouse
billington and colquhoun
release UK Apr.07 llgff
07/UK 1h36

London L&G Film Fest
15 themes, language
4.Apr.07 llgff
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Sugarhouse   2/5
sugarhouse This film strains so hard to establish some sort of rough street cred that it ends up feeling artificial. It also betrays its stage roots with limited sets and a wilfully vague plot.

Tom (Mackintosh) meets up with D (Walters) in a cafe to buy something illicit. D takes him back to an abandoned warehouse, but then starts chattering mindlessly, using drugs and generally beating around the bush. Meanwhile, the local gangster Hoodwink (Serkis) discovers that he's been robbed, and his pregnant girlfriend (Whitwell) can't calm him down. He goes out on a rampage to find D, enlisting the help of anyone he sees. They're all heading for a nasty confrontation.

Filmed and performed with style and energy, there's plenty to like in this film, starting with the deeply committed acting from the central trio. Mackintosh is a solid, still presence that keeps the film grounded. While Walters and Serkis have big, colourful characters--a jittering junkie and a raging thug, respectively. They're fascinating performances, although since we don't have a clue what's going on with them, they feel mannered and a little shallow.

The script is clearly trying to be tricky and mysterious, but withholding key motivations from the audience makes the whole film hard to engage with. Is this about a gun, drugs, sex, money, reputation, jealousy? When we finally do learn what all the fuss is about from each person's perspective, it's too late to really care. Meanwhile, the film's production design is a little too theatrical to be believable (the paint on the graffiti-covered walls still looks wet). So if we can't suspend our disbelief, we're in trouble.

Without a point of connection to the characters, it just looks like a lot of running, fighting and yelling while nothing much actually happens plot-wise and we struggle to understand the connection between the characters without any information at all. In other words, the screenplay is far more suited to the stage than the screen, where it feels simplistic, humourless and rather pointless. This is a real shame, because there's enough talent here to make a truly interesting genre thriller. But this isn't quite it.

dir Gary Love
scr Dominic Leyton
with Steven Mackintosh, Ashley Walters, Andy Serkis, Tolga Safer, Ted Nygh, Adam Deacon, Tracy Whitwell, Sharnie Hobbs, Ade, Steven Robertson, Sharon D Clarke, Stephen Gressieux
walters and mackintosh
release UK 24.Aug.07
07/UK 1h32

edinburgh film fest
18 themes, language, violence, drugs
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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall