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last update 27.Jul.08
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Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging
dir Gurinder Chadha
scr Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges, Will McRobb, Chris Viscardi
with Georgia Groome, Alan Davies, Karen Taylor, Aaron Johnson, Steve Jones, Eleanor Tomlinson, Sean Bourke, Manjeeven Grewal, Liam Hess, Tommy Bastow, Georgia Henshaw, Kimberley Nixon
johnson and groome release UK 25.Jul.08
08/UK Paramount 1h40
Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging Bright, sunny and almost overpoweringly pink, this girly teen comedy is enjoyably silly but never really attempts to dig beneath the surface in a meaningful way. In other words, it's more Bratz than Mean Girls.

Georgia (Groome) is a 14-year-old who feels unusually unlucky. She hates her nose. Her too-helpful parents (Davies and Taylor) won't stop snogging. And she has no idea how she'll get the attention of the two new hotties in school, Robbie and Tom (Johnson and Bourke). So she and her best pal Jas (Tomlinson) concoct a plan, which quickly spirals completely out of control. Soon Georgia is finding trouble at home and school, and even though Robbie notices her, romance looks incredibly unlikely.

From the beginning, the formulaic plot leaves no doubt where it is heading. Georgia's incessant narration tries to find humour in the everyday obsessions of a teen girl, but it's just too normal to be very funny. Yes, everything is the end of the world to her. Yes, she thinks anyone over 30 is retirement age. Yes, she's transfixed with the very idea of boys and the politics of kissing. (The rest of the title refers to her wild housecat Angus and the underwear only slags from "Vulgaria" would ever wear.)

It's all very cute and sweet, and aimed perfectly at the target audience. But it's unlikely that men of any age will be able to engage with the story or characters. The cast is a little uneven, with the teens tending to overact their youthful exuberance and the adults playing down to the youngsters. Jones is an amusing presence as a shirtless builder in Georgia's house who gets Mum's pulse racing while Dad is away on business. But the character is never developed at all.

There are some solid themes swirling throughout the film, hammered home with a somewhat clunky bit of final-act moralising about learning to accept yourself, treat others fairly and eat sensibly. In other words, the film is a very strange concoction--enjoyable while it lasts, but you can feel yourself forgetting it even as the scenes play across the screen.

12 themes, innuendo
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Better Things
dir-scr Duane Hopkins
with Liam McIlfatrick, Che Corr, Tara Ballard, Rachel McIntyre, Megan Palmer, Kurt Taylor, Betty Bench, Frank Bench, Patricia Loveland, Michael Socha, Emma Cooper, Jane Foxhall
better things release UK 23.Jan.09
08/UK Film4 1h33

CANNES FILM FEST edinburgh  film fest
london film fest
better things For his first feature, British filmmaker Hopkins throws out the rules and breaks ground with a significant new cinematic storytelling language. Viewers who require clear-cut plotting might be frustrated, but for the rest of us it's a blast of fresh air. Even if the theme is rather gloomy.

In rural England, a teen girl (Cooper) has just died from a drug overdose, shaking the community to its core. At the funeral, her boyfriend Rob (McIlfatrick) can't bring himself to go inside. As Rob struggles with his grief and guilt, his friend Dave (Corr) is trying to connect with his girlfriend (Ballard), who lives in a distant town. Meanwhile, an elderly couple (Betty and Frank Bench) tries to reconnect after a hospital stint, Rachel (Palmer) fends off the advances of her jealous ex (Taylor), and Gail (McIntyre) fights crippling agoraphobia.

Hopkins adeptly juggles the large cast of characters, some of whom we have difficulty telling apart, and most of whom are played with bracing honesty by non-actors. But rather than a multi-strand plot, he puts the film together down emotional through-lines, stressing the internal issues over the external. And the themes are deeply resonant, from addiction and obsession to generational ideas (we see grandparents and teens, with the generation in between essentially missing).

Meanwhile, the film is edited to a distinct inner rhythm. There's no background music, but the sound design is remarkable, weaving wind, engine noise, rustling hay and crinkling foil in deliberate, subtle ways. And the cinematography is beautiful, using light and texture in inventive ways to follow the characters' individual journeys. Along the way, strong issues gently drift to the surface, including how the system is failing drug addicts who must wait three months for a place in a methadone clinic, or how the transience of society is quietly tearing families and communities apart.

Yes, it's pretty bleak stuff, but it's also a darkly beautiful film. As it progresses, the interrelationships between some characters become powerfully intense in a variety of ways. Sometimes this is a bit vague or deliberately misleading, but that's also part of the film's raw power. As is way we truly experience the deep hopelessness some of these people are facing.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
22.Jun.08 eiff
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The Black Balloon
dir Elissa Down
scr Elissa Down, Jimmy Jack
with Toni Collette, Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Erik Thomson, Gemma Ward, Lloyd Allison-Young, Nathin Butler, Lisa Kowalski, Firass Dirani, Aaron Glennane, Andy Meritakis, Henry Nixon
wakefield and collette release Aus 6.Mar.08,
US 5.Dec.08,
UK 2.Feb.09 dvd
08/Australia Icon 1h37
edinburgh film fest
the black balloon This comedy-drama has that standard Aussie honestly about it, tackling a serious theme with energy and what sometimes feels like too much hilarity. But as the story deepens, it really gets hold of us.

The Mollisons have just moved into a new town in Queensland, and they know it won't be easy to fit in, because one of their teen sons, Charlie (Ford) is disruptively autistic. Younger brother Thomas (Wakefield) just wants to be a normal teen, and is working to qualify as a lifeguard. His hormones have also kicked in, and he's attracted to another swimmer, Jackie (Ward). Meanwhile, their mother (Collette) is heavily pregnant. So it's a good thing Dad (Thomson) is fairly unflappable.

Home life for this family is depicted as utter mayhem managed by striking good humour, as everyone pitches in to whatever frantic situation presents itself, mainly when Charlie spins out of control. But this is all getting to be a bit much for Thomas, and he's starting to hide the truth from his friends, as well as the bullies at his new school. The real truth is that he's never really had his own childhood, and now he's going somewhere Charlie will never go: into adulthood.

This incredibly powerful theme is touched on through the strong story and characters, but never played as a big moral issue. And this offhanded approach makes the film remarkably engaging, as do the feisty, sensitive performances. Wakefield and Ford are superb as the brothers, with a strong chemistry together and a terrific physicality that extends into all of their scenes. And Ward's character is a terrific stereotype-breaker that helps make the entire film much more than it seems.

But it's all held together beautifully by Collette in yet another marvellously open-hearted turn as a big-humoured women with real depth of character. When she's on screen you can't help but react with a riotous guffaw or a quiet gasp. And it's all credit to the cast that they carry us effortlessly through moments of both gross-out farce and intensely terrifying conflict. And then have the nerve to go for an ending that's almost ludicrously sweet. But by then we're part of the family too.

15 themes, language, violence
23.Jun.08 eiff
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dir-scr Jon S Baird
with Nonso Anozie, Nathalie Press, Leo Gregory, Gavin Brocker, Linda Bassett, Peter Wight, Daniel Kaluuya, Verelle Roberts, Tamer Hassan, Paul Kaye, Bronson Webb, Robbie Gee
anozie release UK 11.Jul.08
08/UK 1h44
cass The true story recounted in this biographical drama is strong enough to overcome the rather uneven acting and slightly dull direction. And the themes underlying the film are so important that it's still worth a look.

In 1958, the black orphan Cass is adopted by a working class white couple (Bassett and Wight) in London. He grows up (played by Roberts, Kaluuya, then Anozie) struggling to belong, but finding his place with his mates (Gregory and Brocker) among football hooligans known as the Intercity Firm. A government crackdown lands him in jail, and when released he tries to go straight, getting a job with an old friend (Hassan) and starting a family with Elaine (Press). Then an old feud comes back with a vengeance.

Writer-director Baird captures this world with remarkable insight, conveying a real sense of racism, violence and the tension that surrounds Cass at every step of his life, contrasted intriguingly with his loving adoptive parents. The film is also solidly set in its period, as the Thatcher years of the 1970s and '80s caused havoc in British working class society, leading football fans to express their frustrations through exaggerated loyalty to their teams.

In this sense, the film captures the whole world of hooliganism with much more honest reality than movies like Green Street or The Football Factory. This film never wallows in the violence; it recognises it for what it is. While the brutality is hideous and reprehensible, the film helps us understand the mindset of these deluded young men. And in the middle of it all, we have Cass, an articulate guy who's very aware of all of the issues around him--economy, race, justice.

There are some terrific performances scattered throughout the film, starting with Anozie's remarkable on-screen presence. Basset also provides a solid emotional anchor, nicely balanced by Press' sensitive, sparky turn as the woman in Cass' life. But some other cast members struggle to bring their characters to life, and the film's repetitive structure never quite resolves into something we can properly engage with, especially when a somewhat heavy-handed message rears its head. But Cass' story is so fascinating and important that we're still powerfully moved by it.

18 themes, strong language, brutal violence
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