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last update 13.Jun.07
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Edison   2.5/5   aka: Edison Force
edison In his first major role, Timberlake demonstrates a combination of acting ability and star power, holding his own opposite powerhouses like Freeman and Spacey. So it's a shame that after a terrific opening, the film unravels into nonsense.

In the city of Edison (played on-screen by Vancouver), rookie reporter Josh (Timberlake) covers yet another drug-related killing. But something strikes him as not quite right, implicating the arresting cops (McDermott and Cool J) in a corruption scandal. Josh's editor (Freeman) isn't so sure, but eventually pressures a high-powered cop friend (Spacey) to find out what's going on within the city's notorious FRAT (First Response Assault & Tactical) unit, headed up by the shifty Captain Tilman (Heard) and backed by the slimy DA (Elwes). Of course, the baddies fight back.

The plot is only barely enough to sustain a movie, and writer-director Burke seems to have learned about reporters and cops from movies and TV shows. In other words, nothing is remotely believable. But it's still entertaining and exciting, thanks mainly to the crackling storytelling pace and a cast of terrific actors.

Timberlake is superb as the fresh-faced novice in over his head, facing mortality for the first time and finding previously untapped inner resolve. It's a surprisingly robust performance. Meanwhile, McDermott plays against type as an vicious brute, while Cool J gets the more sympathetic role as a thoughtful thug. Then we have Spacey, who manages to be intriguing despite (or maybe because of) a terrible toupee. And Freeman has a great time as the music-loving ex-hippie with the gritty tenacity of Woodward and Bernstein.

So it's a shame that stupidity takes over in the end. Burke's stylish and urgent direction collapses under the weight of coincidences and boneheaded plot points. Just as the tension really begins to build, the film slips into a corny TV movie melodrama, turning the interesting characters into thin stereotypes who make astonishingly dumb decisions at every turn. At least Timberlake has been able to use this as a springboard for the much stronger Alpha Dog and Black Snake Moan.

dir-scr David J Burke
with Justin Timberlake, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, LL Cool J, Dylan McDermott, John Heard, Cary Elwes, Piper Perabo, Roselyn Sanchez, Damien Dante Wayans, Garfield Wilson, Marco Sanchez
freeman and timberlake release US 18 July 2006 dvd, UK 22.Jan.07 dvd
05/US 1h32
15 themes, language, violence, drugs
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The Purifiers   2.5/5
The Purifiers Jobson has a habit of making films that are full of style but short on substance. At least 16 Years of Alcohol (2003) showed promise with its detailed autobiographical story. But there's not much to this long-shelved urban actioner.

Martial arts gangs have taken over inner-city Glasgow, dividing up territory between them. John (Alexander) is the leader of the Purifiers, striving to avert violence where possible, although his right-hand man Sol (Monaghan) is a bit of a hothead. Then the elusive Moses (McKidd) proposes a peace treaty between all the gangs, to consolidate power. John smells a rat, but Sol is intrigued. And if the Purifiers don't join the union, they're in serious trouble.

Jobson creates an intriguing, visually inventive futuristic setting in present-day Glasgow. When combined with the tough gangland story, a dense score and moody narration, it's clear that his inspiration was Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Alas, the plot isn't that sharp, leaving some sequences feeling pretentiously hyped-up with flashy editing, slo-mo and whooshing sound effects.

And for a film about martial arts, it's strangely bloodless; the fights are fun to watch, like a Cirque du Soleil act. Each shot is carefully composed to look utterly gorgeous, with movement that's like cinematic ballet. This works beautifully in the story's tender moments, which is where the cast members shine. Alexander, Monaghan and Sainsbury (as a tough member of the Purifiers) are especially strong, while McKidd glowers and menaces his way through each scene without even breaking a sweat.

The film also has a strong misogynistic streak that leaves the characters somewhat slimy and unlikeable. For all the female empowerment--the women fight alongside the men, often beating them--the plot still resorts to a lame kidnapped-girl stand-off finale. But even with its problems, the film is still a nice examination of loyalty and trust. And the focal characters have a genuine longing for kindness and compassion, even though they live in a society based on fighting and violence. The hope for a brighter future feels a little preachy. But it's hope, nonetheless.

dir-scr Richard Jobson
with Kevin McKidd, Gordon Alexander, Dominic Monaghan, Amber Sainsbury, Rachel Grant, Robyn Kerr, Jamie Cho, Fraser James, Brendan Carr, Chloe Bruce, Ashley Beck, Stuart Sinclair Blythe
monaghan and sainsbury release US 30.Aug.05 dvd,
UK 4.Jun.07 dvd
04/UK 1h18

15 themes, violence, language
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Tan Lines   4/5
tan lines This razor-sharp, thoroughly engaging coming-of-age drama has a moody, sexy vibe and a raw honesty that really gets under the skin. Australian filmmaker Aldridge avoids Hollywood cliches to tellingly examine teen issues without ever flinching.

Midget (Baxter) and his pal Dan (Clarke) are slacker surfers, doing little besides lounge on the beach and compare their teenage sexual frustrations. At 16, Midget is the only surfer with a job, doing what he calls "gardening work" for spare cash. When Dan's wayward brother Cass (O'Leary) returns to town, Midget wonders if rumours about his sexuality are true. Mainly because he's beginning to wonder about himself. The only other gay guy in town (Dickson) is an outcast, and Midget wants to avoid that fate. But he also wants more than this homophobic town has to offer.

Despite the serious, provocative theme, there's a cheeky tone that emerges through the sarcastic dialog, as well as throwaway gags involving voiceovers and animation. While Aldridge stretches out the film with rather a lot of musical underscoring and some extremely long takes, he also builds a strong sense of place, astutely capturing the realities of teen life in a way that's frank and thoughtful, and far more real than what we usually see on TV or in movies. These teens talk about sex and explore their sexuality in extremely open ways--hesitant, funny, teasing, probing.

And the fresh young cast bravely takes on these terrific characters, bringing to life the deadpan comedy in their conversations. Baxter and O'Leary are very good, especially in their serious discussions. It's also nice to see that the older characters are just as saucy and curious about the world around them (the strip lawn-bowling interlude is hilarious).

Technically the film looks great, with earthy and sensual colours that subdue the gorgeous scenery and create an introspective ambience. And in addition to the more inflammatory sequences, there are some extremely tender moments that illuminate the unspoken connections between various characters; each relationship is completely unique, and every bit of interaction, including the sex, feels almost eerily real. A real gem.

dir-scr Ed Aldridge
with Jack Baxter, Daniel O'Leary, Jed Clarke, Curtis Dickson, Lucy Minter, Theresa Kompara, Bob Nobel, Christian Willis, Joshua Bush, Harry Plato Catterns, Mary Regan, Don Atkinson
release UK 9.Jul.07 dvd;
US 24.Jul.07 dvd
06/Australia 1h36
18 themes, language, sexuality, violence, drugs
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Vampire Diary   3.5/5
vampire diary With a cheap and simple Blair Witch style and loads of attitude and atmosphere, this is a terrific trashy vampire thriller with a nice emotional kick.

Holly (Macbeth) lives on the London goth scene with her friends, who call themselves the "weekend vampires". Haze (Sissons) is her surly best pal, while Adam and Brad (King and McDonald) both have crushes on her. One night Holly meets a mystery woman, Vicki (Walton), and sparks fly. As their romance develops, Holly discovers that Vicki might be a real vampire. Is it possible for them to build a relationship? Blood cravings are a real problem, especially when Holly's friends start looking rather tasty. Maybe Vicki can munch on Holly bit by bit and they'll both be fine.

The whole film is shot like a home video, with prowling, subjective camera work that feels extremely real, in a fly-on-the-wall sort of way. Amid this, the directors use cheesy but cool-looking special effects, arch lighting and even some night vision. All of this combines with the energetic editing to cover over the low budget, most of which apparently went on eyeliner.

The filmmakers are clearly having fun with vampire mythology, from the attempts to eat meat to a blood-stealing crime spree, by way of ice-blended blood shakes. And the girl-girl plotline turns the genre on its end, subverting the usual slick machismo for something much more earthy and raw. It also gives a whole new meaning to the term co-dependence. And it's somewhat mind-bending when we consider the ramifications of Vicki's pregnancy.

Some of the whizzy style obscures the storyline, some of the plot points are completely nonsensical, and there are long segments that feel like mere filler while we wait for more sex or violence. But the cast make the most of the script's emotional undercurrents. When Vicki says, "I'm not a woman, I'm an animal. It's no fun being what I am", we actually feel for her. And for a film that's under 90 minutes, it feels like a camp, artful little epic.

dir Mark James, Phil O'Shea
scr Phil O'Shea
with Anna Walton, Morven Macbeth, Jamie King, Kate Sissons, Justin McDonald, Keith-Lee Castle, Rupert Baker, Gregor Tutor, Mike Lucas, Jack Thomas, Zoe O'Shea, Richard Stanley
walton and macbeth release UK 21.May.07 dvd
07/UK 1h28
18 themes, grisly violence, language, sexuality
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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall