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last update 28.Jan.09
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dir Neil Thompson
scr Geoff Thompson
with Mel Raido, Colin Salmon, Shaun Parkes, Scot Williams, Maxine Peake, Ronnie Fox, Katherine McGolpin, Charlie Clark, Aicha McKenzie, Neil Morrissey, Nick Holder, Ellen Thomas
raido and salmon release UK 16.Jan.09
08/UK 1h35
clubbed Revisiting the British club scene of the 1980s, this dramatic thriller has very strong characters and resonant themes, but is far too brutal and aloof to make us care.

Danny (Raido) is a bored factory worker whose life has fallen apart. Separated from his bitter wife (Peake), he spends as much time with his daughters (McGolpin and Clark) as possible. His self-esteem is boosted when he meets the boxer-bodyguard Louis (Salmon), who invites him to train with him and work shifts as a nightclub doorman alongside Rob and Sparky (Parkes and Williams). But a nasty mobster (Fox) takes exception to Rob's attempt to keep drugs out of the club and hires Sparky as a dealer. Things are about to get ugly.

Director Neil Thompson films this with loads of style and attitude, filling the screen with the overpowering violence of this subculture. These are extremely brutal characters; even the ones who are trying to do something positive are pulled into the grisliness. Among these people, muscles rule and whoever shouts loudest wins. In other words, the film is harsh and abrasive, and it's not easy to feel sorry for Danny when it's obvious that getting out is the best way to survive.

The cast members throw themselves into the characters, unafraid to make them truly reprehensible at times. These complex people are so caught up in their vicious community that they are unable to interact without resorting to anger and frustration. Williams has the least likeable role as the low-life who continues to use drugs and deal them while his girlfriend (McKenzie) is pregnant. It gets much worse than that, as a wave of bloodshed engulfs everyone. And it's impossible to think that these people deserve what they get, because no one deserves this level of sadism.

As it progresses, Geoff Thompson's script feels a little disjointed, perhaps due to some choppy editing. The story lurches and jumps from time to time, and even with a sly twist in the end, it's not easy to see the point of the film, other than as a comment about loyalty and revenge. But it captures the time and place with plenty of raw energy.

18 themes, strong language, violence, drugs
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dir Vito Rocco
scr David Lemon, Vito Rocco
with Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Jessica Hynes, Bronagh Gallagher, Tim Healy, Paul Nicholls, Anne Reid, Joseph Hamilton, Chloe Hesar, Gary Sefton, Richard Ridings, Chris R Wright
marsan release UK 23.Jan.09
08/UK Vertigo 1h32

edinburgh  film fest
faintheart Goofy and charming, but thoroughly formulaic, this lively British comedy is a simplified variation on the Full Monty template. But a strong cast and some funny scenes keep us engaged.

Richard (Marsan) works in a DIY warehouse store by day and dedicates his spare time to a group of friends who re-enact Britain's Viking battles. But while she originally loved all of this, his wife Cath (Hynes) has had enough: "You never grow up; I don't want to live in the past." She's also upset that he rarely sees their pre-teen son (Hamilton). And Richard's best pal Julian (Bremner) isn't much help: he's an obsessive Trekkie, who has a nasty surprise when he meets the woman he's been chatting to online.

Director-cowriter Rocco takes a witty visual approach, opening the film as a big costume epic and quickly shifting into a more madcap story of modern-day stresses. The film is populated by people who all have obsessions, whether they're geeks or not, which adds a layer of meaning we can identify with and laugh at. The film's scruffy tone is relaxed and warm, with a bit of raw realism and deranged humour. As well as rather a lot of silly slapstick.

The biggest trick for the cast members is making their characters into people we identify with. They're all so stubborn that one of them are terribly likeable, although the script contrives to turn them around, of course. Marsan has the hardest job, as Richard is such a thick-headed slacker that we wonder if he's even capable of actually seeing what's happening around him. And even if the plot doesn't ring true, we're willing to go with it and root for the happy ending we can see coming all along.

In the end, the film is nothing more than fluff, with the usual be-youself message coming through the epic climactic confrontation. The characters are all just a bit too ridiculous, and the requisite shift in them as the story progresses doesn't remotely hold water. But the formula works, and we still find ourselves smiling at the funny gags and feeling warm and fuzzy inside as all of the plot strands converge in the end.

12 themes, innuendo, language
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Hannah Takes the Stairs
dir Joe Swanberg
scr Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne
with Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne, Andrew Bujalski, Ry Russo-Young, Mark Duplass, Todd Rohal, Tipper Newton, Kris Williams, Ivan Albertson, Kevin Bewersdorf, Nathan Adloff
duplass and gerwig release US 22.Aug.07,
UK 9.Jan.09
07/US 1h23
hannah takes the stairs Scruffy and offhanded, this improvised comedy is full of vivid characters that are so extremely well-played that we often feel like we're watching a reality TV show. And sometimes they're painfully recognisable.

In Chicago, Hannah (Gerwig) is a young woman just starting her professional life with a job in a TV production company that's trying to come up with a programme idea. Her boyfriend Mike (Duplass) has just decided to quit his job to figure out what he wants to do, and Hannah is having doubts about Mike. She's more interested at the moment in her two office colleagues, Matt and Paul (Osborne and Bujalski). But then, she doesn't really know what she wants at the moment.

Director Swanberg and his adept cast really catch the unpredictability and promise of this particular phase of life, as we see these characters trying to be responsible while clinging to their changeable moods and opinions. Hannah is such a terrifically detailed character, played utterly without self-consciousness by Gerwig, that we can't help but hope she figures herself out, even as she causes emotional chaos for everyone around her. Her dithering doesn't really make her likeable, but the awkward break-ups, hopeful flirtation, restless yearning and funny-serious conversations are bracingly honest.

The film's style is meandering and somewhat indulgent, using long hand-held takes and sometimes slightly too-pointed overlapping, mumbled dialog. But the way it explores the carnage we create in our own lives is extremely revealing. And it's both refreshing and fascinating to see a brave cast that's flabby, funny, raw and anything but another bunch of Hollywood wannabes (as opposed to the fake reality of The Hills or The Real World).

This is a film about trying to plot a course through life and working through things the hard way, by trial and error, and hopefully figuring it out in the end. Its efforts to look like a gritty fly-on-the-wall doc are sometimes contrived (trumpet playing in the bath?), and its conclusion may feel rather glib, but the film also quietly recognises the truth that we never really get it right. We just hopefully get a little closer.

15 themes, language, nudity
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dir Mabrouk El Mechri
scr Frédéric Bénudis, Mabrouk El Mechri, Christophe Turpin
with Jean-Claude Van Damme, François Damiens, Hervé Sogne, Norbert Rutili, Olivier Bisback, Karim Belkhadra, Zinedine Soualem, Jesse Joe Walsh, Jean-François Wolff, Anne Paulicevich, Alan Rossett, Saskia Flanders
van damme
release Bel 18.Jun.08,
US 7.Nov.08,
UK 30.Jan.09
08/Belgium Gaumont 1h36
jcvd Jean-Claude Van Damme gleefully skewers his life and career in this offbeat satirical drama. He also finally discovers a role he can truly shine in: as a fictional version of himself.

In other words, he's a beat-up, has-been action superstar caught in a nasty Los Angeles courtroom custody battle, while his slippery agent (Walsh) isn't helping his stalled career. Returning to his Belgian hometown, he's caught up in a hostage situation in a local post office. The cops think he's the criminal, and a Dog Day Afternoon-type stand-off ensues. While the officers (Damiens and Sogne) try to capture him, the public gather on the streets to support their movie hero. Meanwhile, he's inside having an existential crisis.

The biggest surprise is that Van Damme delivers such a full-bodied performance; even his emotional scenes are effective. And he gets the chance to play with his image through dialog that mercilessly pokes fun at the action hero genre, mainly the fact that these are resolutely B-grade movies with no pretension to quality, and yet they make the seriously big money. The film is packed with witty nods to action cliches, as well as lacerating jokes about Hollywood and a general public that's incapable of separating fact and fiction.

Director El Mechri shoots the film in long, meandering takes that cleverly create an almost documentary atmosphere. The script hinges on a massive perspective shift about halfway through, which feels a bit over-constructed but effectively forces us into Van Damme's head. And the grimy images keep it grounded even when the film gets a bit silly, such as when his hysterical parents arrive to "help" the cops.

In the middle of the film, Van Damme literally floats out of the set to deliver a sort of Shakespearean monolog about the benefits and costs of fame. It's a bit indulgent, but also ironic in that Van Damme never crossed over to the A-list, and even now competes for roles against Steven Seagal's pony tail. As one fan in the crowd observes, Van Damme is responsible for bringing John Woo to Hollywood, and yet he wasn't cast in Face/Off, but watching Windtalkers is like getting revenge. As is this film.

15 themes, violence, language
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