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last update 21.Apr.08
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Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth
dir-scr Simon DaVision
with James Vaughan, Tamsin Greig, Richard Leaf, Mark Heap, Lindsay Carr, Nick Mellersh, Grant Russel, Krisna Kumari-Bowles, Josephine Welcome, Alexander Andrew, Olivia Hill, Mary Myers
vaughan release UK 18.Apr.08
06/UK 1h35
captain eager Filmed in "thrilling Card-o-Vision", this sci-fi mash-up is goofy enough to keep more adventurous audiences entertained. But just a bit of attention to the plot might have given it real cult status.

The plot is so nonsensical that a computer called Expositionite is on hand to explain things (although even that acknowledges that it's convoluted and implausible). Essentially, the obsolete, old-school Captain Eager (Vaughan) is returned to service to help mega-corporation MacroSpace investigate a renegade client, Eager's old nemesis Colonel Regamun (Leaf). But this is all a trap for Eager, who teams with his old flame Jenny (Grieg) and his faithful sidekick Professor Moon (Mellersh) to follow the Mark of Voth to a mysterious temple where Regamun and his sexy assistant Carmina (Carr) are up to something.

Frankly, it's utterly impossibly to follow the story, which has more gaping holes in it than it has actual plot. Characters appear and disappear at random (including Scamp the Rocket Dog), settings change unrecognisably and everything's so busy and chaotic that we're actually stunned into deep boredom about 45 minutes in. And yet, there's something entertaining here as well, as the cast and crew mix retro, Plan 9-style production values with cheap computer effects and some hysterical sight gags.

The film is a collision between the two worlds: Eager's 1950s vintage sci-fi universe of cardboard sets and storylines that are made up as they go along versus elaborate computer-generated cityscapes, mega-villains and even a ludicrously politically correct plot resolution. This is accompanies by hilariously cheesy dialog ("An honest heart can never fail!") and explosive on-screen titles ("Treachery!"), along with witty references to everything from Buck Rogers to Star Trek.

Shot over four years in the director's garage, the best thing about the film is its tacky production design. But without a story or characters that make any sense, it's impossible to engage with it on any level. They just about pull it off with the peace-and-love finale, but not quite. We're left to just laugh at it as an oddity, as we smile knowingly at the nutty juxtaposition of wobbly sets with elaborate digital effects. And sometimes those wobbles are added digitally.

12 themes, violence
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dir-scr Mike Leigh
with Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan, Alexis Zegerman, Samuel Roukin, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Kate O'Flynn, Caroline Martin, Oliver Maltman, Karina Fernandez, Sarah Niles, Nonso Anozie, Stanley Townsend
hawkins (left) release UK 18.Apr.08
US 10.Oct.08
08/UK Film4 1h58

Best Actress:
happy-go-lucky With his trademark light-handed touch, Leigh switches gears (again) to tell story that feels strangely slight. But it's also very funny and, despite the lack of a central plot, finds surprising truth in its characters.

Poppy (Hawkins) is an eternal optimist, laughing at everything life throws at her. She lives in North London with her long-time buddy Zoe (Zegerman) and funnels her internal energy and humour into teaching primary students. The odd thing is that she never switches it off, even when she's taking lessons from a surly driving instructor (a wonderfully against-type Marsan), learning flamenco dancing or having physiotherapy. But her bouncy behaviour is strangely endearing to everyone around her--friends, sisters (O'Flynn and Martin), boss (La Touzel), and especially a sexy social worker (Roukin).

It's intriguing to see Leigh playing with cheerfulness just as adeptly as he has previously examined despair. Poppy is a terrific character, brilliantly well-played by Hawkins in a way that keeps her utterly believable. Her silly-giggly approach to even fairly serious situations is infectious, and just when she starts to seem like a sketch comedy character, an unexpected layer of depth is revealed.

The way Poppy jokes her way through life is so hilarious that we can't help but brace ourselves for the arrival of a plotline with some sort of conflict. But it never really happens beyond small incidents and some very creepy interaction. This slice-of-life approach doesn't always work, mainly in an episode with a homeless man (Townsend) feels that like an outtake from a different film. But other scenes have a real kick, and each sequence in the film reveals provocative details about the characters.

Together Leigh and Hawkins are effective at letting us underestimate Poppy, so that what comes along later really takes our breath away. Even without a storyline to speak of, the film has a lot to say about several serious issues, and the interaction between the characters becomes sometimes startlingly realistic. Essentially, this is a film about the difference between acting grown-up and actually being a grown-up. And Leigh reveals this not with a sharp narrative, but through the eyes of a group of extremely well-written and beautifully played people.

15 themes, strong language
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Kill Kill Faster Faster
dir Gareth Maxwell Roberts
scr Gareth Maxwell Roberts, Joel Rose
with Gil Bellows, Lisa Ray, Esai Morales, Shaun Parkes, Moneca Delain, Stephen Lord, Doña Croll, Jason Griffith Stephen Da Costa, Jane Peachey, Saskia Troccoli, Andreas Sotiri
bellows and ray
release UK Apr.08 liff
08/UK 1h33

Best International Feature: LONDON INDIE FEST
kill kill faster faster With a heavy dose of film noir and a real sense of grit, this personal odyssey is stylish enough to overcome the limits of its budget and the fact that much of it isn't actually filmed in New York (Rotterdam's the stand-in).

Joe One-Way (Bellows) is out of prison for killing his wife (Delain). His friend Markie (Morales) takes him in, while producing a film based on a play Joe wrote behind bars. And Markie's wife (Ray) is even more hospitable. Ahem! But Joe is not coping very well with his freedom, haunted by his dead wife (Delain), his now-grown twin daughters, who he's afraid to see, and his protective cellmate Clinique (Parkes), who's still inside. Joe's main problems are figuring out who he really loves and controlling his temper before he kills again.

Director-cowriter Roberts creates an intriguingly abrasive tone, with stark visuals that rely heavily on shadows, sweat and blood. These characters are mistrusting, fearful and desperate, and in fine noir tradition they're often their own worst enemies. Most of them only know how to communicate through the language of sex, complete with innuendo, bravado, illicit encounters and jealous confrontations. The sex scenes are extremely bold, and demonstrate a willingness among the cast to literally bare their souls on camera.

Bellows holds the film together with a performance that's both emotional and physical. We're never quite sure about him, and the mystery holds our interest. Even through he acts like a tough guy, he seems more like a harmless barking puppy. His scenes with Ray and Delain are intriguing and electric, mainly because they're so out of balance. Meanwhile, Morales is all macho bluster that we hope will develop into something (it doesn't), and Parkes is very good in an under-defined role limited only by the timidity of the filmmakers.

But this is an auspicious feature debut for Roberts, showing a sure grip on tone and an interest in stories from the fringe. The jumbled editing, with flickers of the past and future, always leaves us guessing where the plot is headed. And the tight focus on the characters and their inner lives is rare for a low-key thriller like this.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
16.Apr.08 liff
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The Visitor
dir-scr Thomas McCarthy
with Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Hiam Abbass, Danai Gurira, Marian Seldes, Richard Kind, Maggie Moore, Michael Cumpsty, Bill McHenry, Tzahi Moskovitz, Amir Arison, Neal Lerner
jenkins and sleiman
release US 11.Apr.08,
UK 4.Jul.08
07/US Participant 1h43

28th Shadows Awards


Edinburgh Film Fest
the visitor This gentle and very personal drama is almost disarming in the way it cuts across one of the West's most contentious political issues without ever getting political. And it features a terrific lead performance from Jenkins.

Walter Vale (Jenkins) is a widowed economics professor in Manhattan for a conference, staying in the now-empty flat where he lived with his wife. But an opportunist has rented it to an immigrant couple: Tarek (Sleiman) is a musician from Syria and Zainab (Gurira) is an artist from Senegal, and they have nowhere else to go. So Walter lets them stay in the spare room. Of course, they upset his carefully ordered life and also open his eyes to the world around him. And when Tarek is detained as an illegal alien, Walter knows he has to help.

There's an element of sharp comedy that runs gently through this film, looking at the collision of cultures from a wry perspective that catches us off guard, warmly examining the serious themes of ageing, immigration and prejudice. The meeting of these very different worldviews is provocative and gripping, especially when other characters join the mix, including Tarek's mother (Abbass), who adds an even more unexpected wrinkle to Walter's life.

It's terrific to see the gifted Jenkins in a central role for a change. He's always good at bringing out little surprises in his characters, and Walter is a terrific role: a bundle of compassion, cynicism and curiosity that seems unquenchable. And he becomes increasingly engaging as he wakes up to what's going on in his own culture, and to the joy of taking a few risks. Meanwhile, Sleiman's Tarek has a very different journey--from smiley and relaxed to nervous and angry, and we fully understand why.

As the story develops, each character emerges as a fully formed individual with a distinct sense of humour, singular passions and deep yearnings. These things both separate and unite them in startling ways. Like he did in The Station Agent, McCarthy uses a straightforward human drama to examine the intricate connections between people who shouldn't really get along at all. And he's also tackling some extremely big issues in a profoundly human way that forces us to get past our preconceptions.

12 themes, language
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall