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last update 13.Mar.09
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American Teen
dir-scr Nanette Burstein
with Hannah Bailey, Megan Krizmanich, Jake Tusing, Colin Clemens, Mitch Reinholt, Geoff Haase, Ali Wikalinska
bailey release US 25.Jul.08,
UK 6.Mar.09
08/US Paramount 1h35

london film fest
american teen Gripping and thoroughly entertaining, this high school movie has such incredibly vivid characters and situations that it's rather impossible to believe the film is actually a documentary.

The cameras follow four students over the course of their senior year in Warsaw, Indiana. Hannah is a wannabe filmmaker who doesn't fit into any groups and can't face school after her boyfriend cruelly dumps her. Popular girl Megan has a power-mad twinkle in her eye, but is terrified to think she might not get into the family university. Jake is the band geek who's so desperate for a girlfriend that he imports one from out of state for the prom. And Colin is the basketball star with everything riding on his performance at the big game.

These students' every move is followed by what appears to be an army of cameras, which are there to catch each key moment in their life. While this is terrifically involving to watch, it's also naggingly false, because how could the cameras possibly be everywhere like this? Especially when we see both ends of every spontaneous phone conversation. As well as major events from multiple angles.

For a generation conditioned to watching faked docs like The Hills and The Real World, this may seem perfectly acceptable. But other viewers may demand a bit more, because whether or not this is the doc it claims to be, surely there should be some more insight into teen life than this. And these teens are no different from movie teens 20 or 30 years ago. Basically we have all the usual events, from the big game to the prom and graduation, by way of small melodramas like losing one's virginity and having a boyfriend hook up with a best friend.

That said, the four central characters are terrific to watch, as are the students who orbit around them. Each has a vivid "type" to demonstrate, Breakfast Club-style, and each has to overcome their own internal issues if they hope to get to university and beyond. They're raw and funny, and very believable in ways that the parents and teachers never seem to be, simply because the older people here are so much more one-dimentional. But it's still great fun to watch.

15 themes, language, innuendo
23.Oct.08 lff
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dir Nicolas Winding Refn
scr Brock Norman Brock
with Tom Hardy, Matt King, Amanda Burton, James Lance, Hugh Ross, Kelly Adams, William Darke, Juliet Oldfield, Katy Barker, Joe Tucker, Edward Bennett-Coles, Anna Griffin
release US Jan.09 sff;
UK 13.Mar.09
09/UK Vertigo 1h32

los angeles film fest
bronson A fearless tour-de-force performance from Hardy turns this odd biopic into something thrilling to watch. Seeing him tear up the screen is thoroughly entertaining, even if the film as a whole feels somewhat empty.

Michael Peterson (Hardy), better known by his adopted tough-guy name Charlie Bronson, is regarded as the most violent prisoner in Britain. A gleefully cheeky hothead who can't resist picking fights everywhere he goes, his first incarceration in 1974 is for armed robbery and, with just two brief spells of freedom, his sentence has been extended due to his vicious attacks on inmates and guards. During his long stints in solitary, he develops his skills in poetry and art. Then flips out and kidnaps his art teacher for no real reason.

Reminiscent of Eric Bana's acclaimed performance as Mark "Chopper" Read, Hardy's work is simply astonishing. Nothing he has ever done could prepare us for his beefy, over-muscled physique and larger-than-life swaggering, naked bravado. This is an intriguingly likeable monster with an infectious grin and the attitude that he deserves and enjoys all the trouble he is in. He's like a child desperate for attention, but neglected or abused by everyone around him.

Director Refn approaches the story as if it was A Clockwork Orange for our times, using Kubrickian camerawork and music. The story is narrated as if Bronson is performing a one-man show on a theatre stage, and the suggestion is clearly that society has created this monster. Although to be honest, nothing else about Bronson's story suggests this. Even with so many scenes played out as if they're inside his head, the film never really lets us understand this mercurial figure. And this is partly due to the absence of any form of character arc.

This omission is somewhat frustrating for a film with such a magnetic central performance. We really need some sort of dramatic pay-off. And the striking visual style also suggests that something much more interesting must be going on off-screen. Instead, we merely observe a string of incidents from the life of a man who's beaten but never broken. It's especially well staged and performed, and thoroughly haunting, but leaves us feeling rather cold.

18 themes, strong violence, language, sexuality
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dir-scr Mark Tonderai
with William Ash, Christine Bottomley, Andreas Wisniewski, Claire Keelan, Stuart McQuarrie, Robbie Gee, Peter Wyatt, Sheila Reid, Shaun Dingwall, Harry Mondryk, Rupert Proctor, Carol Allen
ash and wisniewski release UK 13.Mar.09
09/UK Film4 1h22
hush Riddled with cliches and packed with misogynistic nastiness, this British thriller is extremely well shot and edited, but lacks substance even as a guilty pleasure schlock movie.

Zakes and Beth (Ash and Bottomley) are a bickering couple driving down the motorway when they think they see a woman imprisoned in the back of a truck. Unable to read the number-plate, they're ignored by the police, so they start following the truck themselves. Then Beth goes missing, presumably kidnapped by the hooded thug (Wisniewski) driving the truck. So Zakes takes off in hot pursuit. He rescues a girl (Keelan) who has escaped from the truck, but is she who she seems to be?

There's the germ of a decent thriller here, inverting Spielberg's early film Duel, as a tenacious young man chases a faceless killer truck. And Tonderai films it with a gritty visual sense, creating an edgy tone through clever lighting and editing. On the other hand, the sound mix is a deeply predictable stew of suggestive music cues and low, rumbling noise designed to unsettle us. But we've heard too much of that by now for it to work. And the plot's many contrivances eventually leave us frustrated.

There's also the core problem that Zakes isn't remotely likeable. He's a thoughtless, impulsive loser who only manages to keep up with the truck due to a preposterous series of coincidences. Key props are left lying around just so he can use them in his moment of need, including a car that's out of petrol but somehow manages to keep starting. And when he arrives at the murderous lair, the nonsensical set-up instantly shows us how it's all going to end.

There are some moments of real suspense here and there, but the central idea of a hooded killer is so corny that it doesn't work at all. Especially when he showers (huh?) and immediately puts the hood back on. Tonderai never bothers trying to develop the characters or situations, stringing the scenes together in the thinnest way possible, then randomly throwing in something truly grisly to distract us from another gaping plot hole. And the female characters in this film, either hapless or vicious, are downright offensive.

15 themes, language, violence
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Repo! The Genetic Opera
dir Darren Lynn Bousman
scr Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich
with Alexa Vega, Paul Sorvino, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Brightman, Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, Ogre, Terrance Zdunich, Sarah Power, Jessica Horn, Brianna Buckmaster, Branko Lebar
vega release US 7.Nov.08
UK 7.Mar.09
08/US Lionsgate 1h33
repo! Completely unhinged, and more than a little chaotic, this ambitious dystopic musical is awash in blood and gore, camp arias and appalling overacting. In other words, it's rather good fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

After an epidemic of organ failures, the monolithic GeneCo makes its fortune offering financing for transplants. But when patients neglect to pay their bills, their organs are repossessed. Shilo (Vega) is a 17-year-old who has no idea how intertwined she is with GeneCo. Her father (Head) is actually a repo man who stole her mother (Power) from ruthless CEO Rotti (Sorvino). Meanwhile, Rotti is struggling with his three loser kids (Hilton, Moseley and Ogre), while threatening to repossess the eyes of a singing sensation (Brightman) who turns out to be Shilo's godmother.

Within this sung-through rock opera, the narration is crooned by a graverobber (cowriter Zdunich) who extracts a drug from dead bodies for a society full of addicts. He also helps Shilo discover the truth about who she is. And it's this journey that gives the film what little emotional resonance it has. Vega is fine in the role, but everyone around her is deeply tortured. And also pretty torturous for us to watch.

Everyone seems to recognise and embrace the cheesiness, chomp mercilessly on the scenery and each other. Head is actually a decent actor, and as he gives his character some internal angst and external viciousness, he becomes a genuinely nasty piece of work. Sorvino struts and growls perfectly, adding insanity beneath his character's pathos. Brightman looks effectively like a character from a Tim Burton nightmare. And Hilton is vampy and ridiculous, offering a rather fabulous pay-off when her over-nip/tucked face falls off.

Director Bousman keeps things lively and colourful from start to finish, with whizzy camera and effects work, constant grisliness and surging emotions. It's like the mutant spawn of Sweeney Todd and Moulin Rouge, and so over the top that we can't help but enjoy watching it unfurl (and unravel) on screen. Sure, the slickly crazed production design, melodramatic plot and power ballads might leave us slack-jawed in disbelief, but we're not bored for a second.

18 themes, grisly violence, language
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