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last update 18.May.08
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Chemical Wedding   2.5/5
dir Julian Doyle
scr Bruce Dickinson, Julian Doyle
with Simon Callow, Kal Weber, Lucy Cudden, Jud Charlton, Paul McDowell, Helen Millar, Terence Bayler, Richard Franklin, John Shrapnel, Geoff Breton, Sean Rea, Bruce Dickinson
callow release UK 30.May.08
08/UK Warner 1h46

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chemical wedding This over-the-top occultic horror concoction threatens to unravel at any moment, yet remains strangely entertaining due to its irreverent tone and a blackly comical subtext.

Haddo (Callow) is a Cambridge professor working with a computer technician (Charlton) to digitise the essence of legendary dark arts master Aleister Crowley (Shrapnel in the prologue). And it works, as Haddo becomes the reincarnation of Crowley and sets about trying to stage the chemical wedding ritual to create an astral moonchild. Meanwhile, a visiting American professor (Weber), a curious redhead journalist (Cudden) and the ageing headmaster (McDowell), who actually knew Crowley, slowly realise what's up, and must find out a way to stop the dawn of a dark age for mankind.

The filmmakers gleefully stir in occult symbols, eerie Masonic rites, sinister rituals and even a rather mad orgy. There are plenty of shock-value sequences, although the sex and nudity is essentially limited to getting the actresses to take off their tops. Meanwhile, Callow escalates his performance from blustering, stuttering professor to bellowing, Crowley-possessed madman, pouncing on every line of dialog with eye-rolling delight. About halfway in, we wonder if he can get any more outrageous, but he's actually only just started, and by the end we worry that he's going to explode on screen.

And the supporting has equal enthusiasm, with Weber and Cudden somehow maintaining their equilibrium enough to give us characters we can identify with as events spiral out of control. Director Doyle keeps the atmosphere dark and shadowy, while weaving in witty visual touches. And the script (cowritten by Iron Maiden vocalist Dickinson, who has a cameo) is a bundle of creepy references and knowing details that shows that rather a lot of research actually went into its construction.

But instead of indulging in over-serious satanic mumbo jumbo, the film keeps the tone lively and entertaining. Yes, it's a collision of every kind of spirituality known to mankind, but it's also a camp horror romp with a ludicrous B-movie vibe (think The Omen meets The DaVinci Code, as directed by Ken Russell). And if the pacing is completely off and Callow's vein-popping performance goes completely through the roof, it's still pretty good fun.

18 strong themes, language, violence, sexuality
17.May.08 cannes
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Don’t Go   3/5  
dir-scr Amber Sharp
with Guinevere Turner, Skyler Cooper, Melange LaVonne, Janora McDuffie, Nisha Ganatra, Yaniv Moyal, Kathleen Davison, Selma Pinkard, Mark Berry, Roop Sumal, Corliss Bennett, Avear Carey
moyal and mcduffie release US 14.Jul.07,
UK Mar.08 llgff
07/US 51m

london L&G film fest
don't go This pilot for a TV series is going for the multiracial/metrosexual audience with its mix of every conceivable ethnicity and sexuality. The concept of such a blended family is intriguing, but it feels a bit melodramatic.

In an urban Los Angeles neighbourhood, Melody (Turner) owns both a local sex shop and an apartment building that houses a mélange of residents. She's also a hermaphrodite, taking the more girly role in her relationship with Jaden (LaVonne), a boyish woman who's understandably shocked to discover that she's pregnant with Melody's child. Also on hand are Bone (Cooper), Jaden's muscly sister; Shanti (Ganatra), who has just moved out on her own; and Jess (Moyal), the gay fix-it man who finds himself attracted to Cindy (McDuffie), a personal assistant to a Hollywood power player (Davison).

The characters are realistic, and the situations are entertainingly twisted, but the production is a bit cheap-looking, like an over-lit, under-designed, badly recorded soap. And there's also the problem of trying to merge all of these disparate characters into an ensemble storyline, which feels somewhat contrived, especially as every plot thread has at least one big surprise to go with the various wrenching crises and agonising decisions.

This group of strangers becomes a makeshift family in order to survive the stresses of their various lives, and watching their interaction is thoroughly engaging. The cast is solid, nicely underplaying even the most over-the-top situations. And writer-director Sharp catches the tone nicely, although she clearly needs some more experience as a director. There's also the problem of this being a pilot; as a festival film, it feels annoyingly open-ended.

But it's great to see what's essentially a traditionally plotted TV series populated by people who would be considered on the fringe of society, even though all of them are thoroughly normal, grappling with the same issues that affect everyone. In this sense, it's a lot more daring than it looks, and its also surprisingly thoughtful and introspective even in the most overwrought scenes. The only thing it needs, really, is a bigger budget to make it look more professional and help it find an audience.

15 strong themes, language
12.Mar.08 llgff
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25¢ Preview   2.5/5  
dir Cyrus Amini
scr Cyrus Amini, Merlin Gaspers, Dorian Brockington
with Merlin Gaspers, Dorian Brockington, Georgia Feinberg, James Dowling, Christopher Anderson, David Clark, Greg Lockamy, Danny Thomas, Emma Henly, Ru Bradford, Tanya Aranda, Wendy Joy Robertson
gaspers and brockington release US Feb.07 sfiff,
UK Mar.08 llgff
07/US 1h24

london L&G film fest
25 cent preview There's a grainy authenticity to this film that makes it watchable, almost like a particularly seedy reality TV programme. But it's essentially a short film stretched into a feature.

Marcus (Gaspers) is a pretty-boy street hustler in San Francisco with a semi-girlfriend (Feinberg) and a best pal, DotCom (Brockington), who works in a peep show joint. Together, Marcus and DotCom prowl the streets looking for money and drugs, turning tricks, sometimes together, sometimes involving bondage and/or credit card fraud. Meanwhile, there's an older man (Dowling) following Marcus, and he turns out to be the priest who abused him as a boy. The victim of a similar experience in his youth, Dotcom proposes revenge rather than forgiveness.

Director Amini maintains an intriguingly rhythmic, handheld vibe that makes the most of improvised performances by Gaspers and Brockington. With a dreamy sound mix, witty editing, earthy video footage and sharply detailed stills, the film feels almost like a stream of consciousness as it follows these two men through what feels like just another day of soulless sex. Although it does indulge in some moralising as well, along with some self-pitying (but true) "abuse steals the choice from a child" hand-wringing.

Gaspers is good as a mopey surfer-type who's bored by women, mildly repulsed by his male clients and full of loathing for most people around him. And Brockington has serious screen presence as the edgy DotCom, who launches into a couple of superb spontaneous musical numbers and energetically inhabits the role. Together, they make a terrific screen team, and overcome the mumbled dialog and vague plotting.

But this awkwardness infuses the whole film, and in the end we find it impossible to really care about these men. This is mainly due to a self-conscious filming style that tries so hard to be street-smart that it actually feels false. The cheesy music doesn't help, nor does the forced sense of urgency at the end. While the story could have headed into a fascinating crisis of spirituality, it instead veers into action-movie territory on the edge of a cliff. Gripping and unpredictable, but not very convincing.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
12.Mar.08 llgff
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Viva   3.5/5
dir-scr Anna Biller
with Anna Biller, Jared Sanford, Bridget Brno, Chad England, Marcus DeAnda, John Klemantaski, Paolo Davanzo, Robbin Ryan, Barry Morse, Cole Chipman, Carole Balkan, Johnny Holiday
biller (right) on the beach release US Jun.07 cviff,
UK 15.May.09
07/US 2h02

RAINDANCE FILM FEST london L&G film fest
viva This film is such an outrageously colourful homage to 1970s sexploitation cinema that it's impossible not to enjoy, even with the over-the-top performances and rambling narrative.

Barbie (Biller) is a 1972 Los Angeles housewife with a blond Ken-doll husband, Rick (England). Their best friends are Mark and Sheila (Sanford and Brno); Mark's an actor with wandering hands and also a new home-movie camera. It's the peak of the sexual revolution, so everyone flirts shamelessly and moans about their personal space. And when Rick goes off to find himself and Mark leaves Sheila, the two women relaunch themselves as Viva and Candy, exploring prostitution, sex parties, nudism and fabulous musical production numbers.

Writer-director-star Biller keeps everything extremely garish and camp from the start, with performances that are stiff and corny and a style of production that feels deeply amateurish even as it accurately captures the period. It's shot exactly like the 1960s Batman TV series, with lurid sets, eye-popping costumes, slap-on make-up and outrageous hair-dos. And there's a meticulous attention to detail in this sense, all the way down to the food and drink.

Meanwhile, the dialog is delivered like a clunky porn movie, complete with a cheesy musical score. And in the musical numbers there's a sense of hilarious overkill, with vivid fantasies, sequins-o-rama and even gold Speedo-clad backing dancers. Amid all this, Biller somehow manages to maintain characters that we can sort of engage with. These people are just trying to plot their way through a society in which the rules are changing, and they're willing to do what it takes to move forward, even if ultimately they realise that it's all just a phase. And one that, like the 1970s clothing, is perhaps better forgotten.

Yes, there is actually some serious stuff going on beneath the silly surface, including a strong comment on female roles in society--both through desires and empowerment--and how each of us has, bottled up inside, a lover, parent, friend and party monster. In the end the film is far too chaotic and badly paced to work, but it's so much fun that we don't really mind.

15 themes, sexuality, nudity
12.Mar.08 llgff
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