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last update 3.Apr.07
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Co/Ma   2.5/5
This oddity from Mike Figgis calls itself a masterclass, as it brings together some 25 filmmakers in Ljubljana to make a movie in six days. The problem is that they don't really make a movie at all.

What's on screen will certainly interest budding filmmakers, as it gets under the skin of the creative process. But these writers, directors, actors, composers, cinematographers and so on merely play with the idea of moviemaking. This quirky, self-referential project operates on various levels, as each person plays heightened versions of themselves in a doc within the doc. Plus a lurid soap opera they're creating, which jarringly changes from episode to episode (we only see snippets), as well as monologs, horror scenes, wish-fulfilment fantasy and blurry art movie, in shifting colour and monochrome.

It's thoroughly experimental, without even a vague sense of coherence. And there are so many characters that we never really get to know any of them. So when one has a complete meltdown ("Why come all the way here to do something that's bad?") or another stomps out of the collective, it doesn't really make any difference. And maybe it's all part of the in-joke anyway.

The best segments are scenes of the group trying to work through clashing artistic visions. These scenes actually examine the idea of trying to create art by consensus rather than through a singular vision. So it's obvious why the project is doomed from the start with far too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen. Their colourful disagreements are entertaining, although we begin to believe that it's all staged in an irritatingly indulgent mock-reality TV way.

But in these scenes at least there are some funny moments, as actors whinge about "the porno thing" and producers impose big names (Max Von Sydow and Johnny Knoxville) on the filmmakers. They also poke fun at the way they believe they're doing something deeply important, while in the gimmicky segments and the soap itself, they revel in their own cleverness. But it's not important or clever. It's mildly intriguing, irritating chaos.

dir-scr-with Feo Aladag, Jovan Arsenic, Aleksandra Balmazovic, Lana Baric, Vladimir Bouchier, Jesper Christensen, Louis Crelier, Anouska Delich, Mike Figgis, Steve Hudson, Martin Jelovsek, Aljosa Kovacic, Noemi Mehrli, Maja Moravec, Jurij Moskon, Martina Nagel, Johnny O'Reilly, Isabella Parkinson, Fabian Passamonte, Primoz Petkovsek, Thekla Reuten, Doris Schretzmayer, Hanna Slak, Jelena Stankovic
figgis release Slo 14.Nov.04,
US 15.Feb.06,
UK 2.Apr.07 dvd
04/Slovenia Swipe 1h32
15 themes, language
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Cut Sleeve Boys 3/5
Colourful and goofy, this silly comedy isn't very original or deep, but it's surprisingly endearing as it tries to examine the nature of masculinity in a seriously unmasculine subculture.

After their buddy Gavin (Hampton) dies, the sardonic Mel (Lim) and the camp Ash (Leow) try to put their life back together on London's Soho gay scene. Todd (Davis) shows up on Mel's doorstep needing a place to stay, and clearly wanting more. While Ash goes online to find a man, and decides he might have better luck as a transvestite. But he's surprised when Ross (Collie), the ex of aging scene queen Diane (Campbell), expresses his interest. Relational antics ensue.

This lively, buzzy movie is loaded with cheesy comedy that's based entirely on catty one-liners and cliched characterisations. Rather than meaningfully examine gay-Chinese society, the script instead focuses on such tired things as internet dating, drug-fuelled clubbing and cross-dressing. So it's nice that a few strong themes emerge later on to make the film worth watching--namely a surprisingly astute look at how the scene takes decent people and chews them up, and also a brief but pointed glimpse of homophobia.

The cast isn't required to do much more than camp it up, whether they're laughing or crying. Every plot point is overdramatised, as you'd expect in a story about divas. Lim and Leow do develop an engaging chemistry, even though they're thoroughly unlikely as best friends. And the double rom-com plot also manages to be sweet and surprising, right up to a rather unexpected finale.

Writer-director Yeung maintains a vibrant production design, despite rather bland camera work. The cast members sometime struggle with the simplistic dialog, which is extremely talky without any subtext at all. And except for a few passionate snogs, the film isn't terribly sexy. Although there are some hilarious sight gags that keep us giggling.

In the end, it's an enjoyably wacky farce that isn't quite as fluffy as it seems to be. Even though he barely scratches the surface of the characters and situations, the filmmaker at least has the nerve to acknowledge the serious issues that are running underneath.

dir-scr Ray Yeung
with Chowee Leow, Steven Lim, Gareth Rhys Davis, Neil Collie, John 'Ebon-knee' Campbell, Paul Cox, Mark Wakeling, David Tse, David Cary, Mark Hampton, Michelle Lee, Kai Ting Chiang lim and davis release UK 14.May.07 dvd, US Jun.07
06/UK 1h26

London L&G Film Fest
18 language, sexuality, drugs
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Lie With Me   3/5
lie with me Beautifully shot with a strikingly feminine tone and a frank approach to sex and relationships, this film is worth watching for the sensitive performances. It also nicely captures the vagaries of attraction, although it never really says anything new.

Leila (Smith) is a party girl who loves to flirt, and is shameless about it. When she meets David (Balfour), there's a spark of lust. David's girlfriend (Shannon) chases Leila off, but she doesn't stay away for long. Soon they're having a torrid fling, and growing emotionally attached as well. Both react strongly: she feels inadequate, he wants more than sex. And then they're back where they started. Or are they?

Before the film drifts into a rather ponderous "how does a woman love a man?" story, there's an intriguing jolt of electricity between the cast members. Their reluctance to get into relationships is very well-played, as is the relaxed zing of chemistry. There's also plenty of provocative subtext that touches on ideas of control and co-dependence. Smith and Balfour go for it with open, honest and frequently naked performances that feel thoroughly real.

Meanwhile, director-cowriter Virgo creates a pulsingly moody tone that catches a sense of random desire. There isn't much dialog; this is a film about feelings, shot in long, fluid takes, with Leila's inner monolog carrying us through her thought processes. In her eyes, David is like a dream man, literate (reading Hesse and watching Vigo), lounging near-nude in his flat, then sensitively but firmly ravishing her when she arrives. It's pure romantic fantasy that of course goes horribly wrong when it becomes reality.

Much of the sex is dangerous and illicit (and explicit), but it's also natural and openly celebratory. So it's a little annoying when the film turns mushy, dragging through an interval of obsession and regret, expectations and disappointments, without really saying anything new about love or lust. Leila starts to come across as an unlikeable brat who refuses to grow up. So even though they're beautifully done, the final scenes don't resonate as well as they should.

dir Clément Virgo
scr Tamara Faith Berger, Clément Virgo
with Lauren Lee Smith, Eric Balfour, Polly Shannon, Kristin Lehman, Don Francks, Ron White, Kate Lynch, Michael Facciolo
eric balfour and lauren lee smith
release Can 11.Nov.05,
UK 29.Jan.07 dvd
05/Canada 1h33

18 themes, language, strong sexuality
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The Reception   3.5/5
the reception Relaxed and sensitive, this nicely contained drama looks at family relationships, expectations and interaction without ever being pushy about it.

The film traces five days in a big house in rural New York, where Sierra (Burkwith) has arrived to visit her estranged mother Jeannette (Stewart). And she's brought a surprise in the form of new husband Andrew (Sills-Evans), a handsome black law student. So they plan a wedding reception. Jeannette lives with her old friend Martin (Sims), a black gay painter, and the parallels immediately become obvious. Especially when Jeannette's alcoholic excesses cause another glaring outburst. Or when Andrew starts flirting with Martin. What's really going on here?

The snowy countryside gives this story a terrific setting, allowing for hikes in the woods, talks by the fire and all sorts of revelations. Not to mention explosions of emotion. We only really meet one person outside this foursome: the shopkeeper Chuck (Burmeister), who clearly has a thing for Jeannette. This extremely limited cast makes the film feel like a play, as four people plus one interloper struggle with their relational chaos. Each of them has a dark secret. And of course by the day of the party, they're all going to come out.

Writer-director Young keeps the film focussed, using the deep tensions to provide subtext. It's never an issue-based film; it's a melodrama with strong characters and extremely subtle performances. The plot might be somewhat over-egged with all of the attitude, inappropriate behaviour, drunken antics and slipping restraint. But it's also loaded with an undercurrent of loneliness and yearning, lost ambitions and perhaps a final chance to straighten out the mess.

The actors are very good--raw and natural, with an authentic awkwardness between them. Even when it gets rather soapy and simplistic, the cast members avoid both corniness and sentimentality. This helps keep us involved in the situation, even when Young stirs in huge themes from racism to alcoholism to Aids, and even when the plot gets a little too twisty for its own good. But the earthy rhythms of the film, helped by a lovely song score, keep it grounded. And the gently moving conclusion hits just the right note.

dir-scr John G Young
with Wayne Lamont Sims, Pamela Holden Stewart, Darien Sills-Evans, Margaret Burkwith, Chris Burmeister
wayne lamont sims release US 15.Jul.05,
UK 19.Feb.07 dvd
05/US 1h20
15 themes, language, sexuality
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall