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last update 15.Oct.08
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I Dreamt Under the Water
4/5   J’ai Rêvé Sous l’Eau
dir Hormoz
scr Hormoz, Philippe Arrizabalaga
with Hubert Benhamdine, Caroline Ducey, Christine Boisson, Hicham Nazzal, Franck Victor, Hélène Michel, Fabrice Leroux, Eva Ionesco, HPG, Rodrigue Adompo, Alexandre Archenoult, Yvon Castaing
ducey and benhamdine release US 8 Aug.08,
UK 6.Oct.08 dvd
08/France TLA 1h39
i dreamt under the water Filmmaker Hormoz creates a moody, lusty atmosphere with this drama about the fragility and unpredictability of relationships, and how difficult it is to move on after one ends.

It's the summer of 1999, and Antonin (Benhamdine) is secretly in love with his party-loving bandmate Alex (Victor). But Alex dies of an overdose, leaving Antonin to obsess over his unspoken desire. And since he suddenly has to find a new place to live, his despondency leads him into the streets, where he indulges in dangerous sex and works as an escort. One client (Nazzal) sees the sensitive soul inside and tries to reach out to him. And then he falls in love with Juliette (Ducey). But it's not that simple.

Clearly, Antonin can't escape the ghost of Alex, who haunts his memory and ultimately invades (Juliette is using the same drugs as Alex). Old fears resurface and difficult decisions become nearly impossible. Yes, this is somewhat melodramatic and perhaps a bit contrived, but Hormoz directs it with such skill that we are drawn into the story and begin to feel for the characters.

Benhamdine performance is superbly muted and distanced. We can see him deliberately destroying his soul right in front of our eyes, but there's always a spark of humanity in there. It's not an easy character to get right, or to make likeable, but Benhamdine pulls it off. And the other actors are so authentic that the film often feels almost like a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

Structurally, the film catches us off guard as well. There's a point in the middle that feels like a happy ending, as Antonin and Juliette find true love. But there is of course a fundamental flaw there, and as the cycle repeats itself ominously and realistically, we know that things are going to get very dark for these people before they see the light. Along the way, the film forces us to look at how we take our stability and happiness for granted, avoiding our fear of the unknown in every way possible. But it also reminds us that there's something hopeful beyond the desolation.

18 themes, language, drugs, strong sexuality
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East Side Story
dir Carlos Portugal
scr Carlos Portugal, Charo Toledo
with René Alvarado, Steve Callahan, David Berón, Gladise Jimenez, Irene DeBari, Cory Alan Schneider, Luis Accinelli, Yelyna De Leon, Luis Raul, Jason Kordelos, Martin Morales, Andrea Zafra
alvarado and beron release US 9.Oct.06,
UK 20.Oct.08 dvd
06/US 1h28
east side story This relatively silly and sweet romance actually addresses some serious themes along the way. And the zany Mexican soap opera style keeps it from feeling heavy handed.

In the Latino community of East Los Angeles, 30-ish Diego (Alvarado) works in his family's restaurant while having a secret relationship with Pablo (Beron). But when Diego presses Pablo to formalise their year-long romance, Pablo declares that he's straight and this was just a phase. He then asks out Diego's colourful Aunt Bianca (Jimenez), who's recently back from Europe. Lonely while his mother (DeBari) is on holiday, Diego befriends a new neighbour, Wesley (Callahan), who's having trouble with his catty boyfriend (Schneider).

All of this plays out in an energetic, cute way with hilarious dialog (especially from Bianca) and brightly colourful production design. And like a soap, the plot is a series of charged face-offs. But while tracing Diego's self-discovery, the film also examines provocative issues, most boldly the deep-seated bigotry in this community, here demonstrated in a fear and loathing of upscale gay couples buying up the houses, as well as corporate monoliths opening branches near their family-owned businesses.

Filmmaker Portugal and his cast don't flinch in the portrayal of these things, with three characters who are consumed by their narrow-mindedness: Accinelli's bitter chef is literally destroyed by his rage, Beron's self-hating homosexual causes havoc for everyone he meets, and Schneider shows how vengeful jealousy can snap back on you. Each of these three characters are portrayed as fairly cartoonish monsters, but the point is still made, and is very strong, mainly because the rest of the film is so relaxed and engaging.

Alvarado is terrific in the central role, even if he's a bit too over-pumped and over-groomed to be a normal guy from the barrio. Jimenez and DeBari are terrific as the strong women in his life. And Callahan adds a nice touch as the open-minded Wesley, who follows his heart against the grain. Each of the characters overreacts wildly to what happens to them, in fine soap style, giving the film a funny and jagged tone that overcomes the rising sappiness. But it's the issue-oriented material that makes it worth a look.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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The Onion Movie
aka: News Movie
dir James Kleiner
scr Todd Hanson, Robert D Siegel
with Len Cariou, Larissa Laskin, Scott Klace, Steven Seagal, Sarah McElligott, Brendan Fletcher, Greg Cipes, Kirk Ward, Nick Chinlund, Gedde Watanabe, Tom Wright, Michael Bolton
cariou release US 3.Jun.08 dvd,
UK 22.Sep.08 dvd
08/US 1h26
the onion movie news movie An uneven mix of satire and sketch comedy, this scattershot film has been retitled News Movie in the UK to cash in on an even less-funny franchise. This certainly has its moments, but drifts way too far into unfunny slapstick.

It's anchored to a newscast presented by Norm Archer (Cariou), with stories that touch on topical issues in both dryly satirical and broadly silly ways. The parent company is increasingly branding his show, which Archer protests against Network-style, especially the intrusive promotions for an absurd Steven Seagal blockbuster. We also get: reports from correspondents (Laskin and Klace) about an oversexed-but-virginal pop star (McElligott) and an amputee hockey player (Ward); random comedy scenarios that centre on race, crime, violence and male genitalia; plus a film review programme that reviews this movie as it plays.

Some of this material is extremely clever, most notably the astute skewering of current issues from obesity to military recruitment. In typical Onion style, the jokes are often so exaggerated that they make their point simply by grabbing our attention. On the other hand, they also have a tendency to drift into tastelessness, especially when stomping through tender subjects like disability, fatal illness and sexual violence. Even though these issues need to be examined, they're not things we can laugh about on any level, and certainly not through the ill-conceived goofiness on display here.

That said, The Onion's brand of unapologetic rudeness definitely has its place in a society that's far too politically correct. And while the jokes here aren't particularly subtle, they're at least smart and witty, with some genuinely funny gags here and there, plus the usual cheap laughs at the starry cameos. Then there's another overlong sketch that isn't funny at all, and in the end the unfunny bits overpower the sharp jabs to leave it all feeling pointless and stupid. It's not remotely in the same league as sketch films like Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex or even Kentucky Fried Movie. But it's miles above those "Movie" movies.

15 themes, strong language, innuendo, violence, sexuality
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dir John Curran
scr Andrew McGahan
with Peter Fenton, Sacha Horler, Marta Dusseldorp, Ray Bull, Joel Edgerton, Yvette Duncan, Gregory Perkins, Loene Carmen, Skye Wansey, Richard Green, Susan Prior, Lynette Curran
shuichi and yuki
release Aus 22.Apr.99,
UK 20.Oct.08 dvd
praise This deranged romance from Australia has taken 10 years to arrive in Britain (on DVD), but it still feels ahead of its time, with a frank look at sex and drugs and, even more importantly, self-respect.

In Brisbane, Gordon (Fenton) is a shy 25-year-old who's the only person at the leaving party for brazen coworker Cynthia (Horler). He suffers from asthma, she from eczema, and it takes a few days before she can't take it anymore and pounces on him. This isn't really about love, but neither of them is willing to admit that. It's a flurry of sex and drugs until Gordon finally gets some perspective and realises that Cynthia might be insane.

The film is closely locked on Gordon's perspective, which gives it a feverish tone that draws us in just as Cynthia's mad obsession draws Gordon into her orbit. Both actors dive headlong into the roles, holding nothing back physically or emotionally, and the result is both engaging and harrowing. Thankfully, the scary stuff is tempered by Gordon's quiet longing for his teenage crush (Dusseldorp), a lonely neighbour (Bull) and the more straightforward relationship Gordon's best friend (Edgerton) has with his girlfriend (Duncan).

Filmmaker Curran is clearly fascinated by tortured relationships; he went on to make We Don't Live Here Anymore (2004) and The Painted Veil (2006). And this film is a remarkably astute exploration of what brings people together, providing a sense of belonging and purpose even if it's completely unbalanced and, well, wrong. As he fills the film's edges with the sounds and textures of relationships that are both hilarious and terrifying, Curran and writer McGahan (adapting his own novel) are quietly saying that there's a healthy way to relate to each other, and we need to be able to recognise the difference.

While the film is a little too wacky and melodramatic, with a couple of swirlingly vague sequences that leave us wondering, it's also a remarkably thoughtful examination of two loners who find solace in each other in an eerily unhinged way. Although this doesn't necessarily make what they have together any less valid, or any less likely to be successful than a more traditional relationship. Whatever that might be.

18 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall