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JULIA | WHITE LIGHTNIN'
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last update 30.May.09
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
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Awaydays
2/5
dir Pat Holden
scr Kevin Sampson
with Nicky Bell, Liam Boyle, Stephen Graham, Oliver Lee, Lee Battle, Ian Puleston-Davies, Holliday Grainger, Sean Ward, Michael Ryan, Sacha Parkinson, Samantha McCarthy, Dean Smith
bell and boyle
release US Mar.09 sxsw,
UK 22.May.09
09/UK 1h44
awaydays This British drama approaches some strong themes with a darkly dramatic tone and solid acting, but it seems to sidestep every key moment along the way, wallowing in grisly violence and leaving us wondering what happened.

In 1979 Merseyside, Carty (Bell) is a young guy desperate to get into the Pack, a football hooligan gang. At a concert, he meets Pack-member Elvis (Boyle), and they begin a friendship as Elvis helps Carty get into the Pack for their next trip to an away game, where they spark a nasty brawl with the opposing fans. But Carty's obsession with violence means he's neglecting both his job and little sister (Grainger) and heading for trouble. And Elvis seems to like him more than he suspects.

Bell and especially Boyle are great on screen, marking them as young actors to keep an eye on. And director Holden shows promise, nicely capturing the period with murky photography, detailed costumes and a soundtrack of obscure gems by Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, the Cure and Ultravox. This creates an atmosphere that's both lively and dense, focussing on the moods and emotions rather than the plot. Indeed, there's no football at all (these fans don't seem to watch a single match).

But none of the story's dramatic moments are on screen: each requires a leap of faith on our part, as we imagine what happens. This includes some crucial events, which is a rather big problem, as we are left to assume virtually everything. Even the film's central relationship is inconclusive. And while the moods and feelings are vivid, it's impossible to identify with characters when we haven't a clue what's happening to them.

By contrast, while none of the drama is explicit, the violence is shown in painful detail, which leaves us wondering what the film's point is. Sampson based the script on his own novel, so it has an introspective, autobiographical tone. But the only message seems to be that violence is an ever-increasing cycle, which isn't terribly insightful. And while the characters all struggle to figure out what's most important in their lives, the fact that they never seem to find an answer makes the film feel rather hopeless.

18 themes, language, violence, drugs, sexuality
31.Mar.09
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French Film
3/5  
dir Jackie Oudney
scr Aschlin Ditta
with Hugh Bonneville, Anne-Marie Duff, Victoria Hamilton, Douglas Henshall, Eric Cantona, Jean Dell, Vincent Wintwehalter, Marie-Gaelle Cals, Benjamin Bellecour, Lizzie Brochere, Henry Maynard, Adrian Annis
duff and bonneville release US 28.Jan.09,
UK 15.May.09
08/UK Slingshot 1h27
french film This romantic pastiche is rather uneven and corny, but is packed with characters who are thoroughly intriguing. We may not like them very much, but we recognise ourselves in there.

Jed (Bonneville) is a London journalist preparing to interview a pretentious French director (Cantona). While watching his movies, Jed begins to believe that French films know everything there is to know about life and love. This resonates for him since he and his longtime girlfriend Cheryl (Hamilton) are having problems and seeing a counsellor (Dell) who happens to be French. Jed tries to talk about these things with his pal Marcus (Henshall), but can't manage an open, French-style conversation. He has more luck with Marcus' sparky girlfriend Sophie (Duff).

Writer Ditta is clearly trying to create a hybrid of talky French relationship films and silly British rom-coms, centring the entire film on a series of conversations while the four main characters all grapple with personal issues that have ramifications for each other. And there are a number of wacky fantasy sequences and flashbacks thrown in as well. It's fairly clear from the start where this is going, but there are enough details along the way to keep us engaged.

Unusually, none of the characters are hugely likeable. Bonneville's Jed is a nice guy, but he's so clueless and self-obsessed that we can fully understand Cheryl's deep frustration. Meanwhile, Hamilton plays Cheryl as a woman who overreacts without bothering to truly confront things. Henshall is very cute as the impulsive Marcus, who seems to make life-changing decisions without any real thought. Duff has perhaps the only warmly endearing character, although Sophie also reacts in contrived ways that feel harshly scripted. And Cantona is pretty hilarious as the poncy auteur.

With such prickly characters, the film has a strangely truthful tone that counters the trite plot. Along the way, director Oudney catches some of the grim realities of coupled life, which gives a biter undercurrent to the light-hearted humour. It's a mixture that doesn't always gel, making the dialog often feel clumsy and forced. And the film's running thesis--asking whether the strength of a relationship depends on how romantic the first meeting was--never develops into anything very meaningful.

15 themes, language
3.May.09
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Julia
3.5/5
dir Erick Zonca
scr Aude Py, Erick Zonca
with Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate Del Castillo, Aidan Gould, Jude Ciccolella, Bruno Bichir, Horacio Garcia Rojas, Gastón Peterson, Eugene Byrd, Kevin Kilner, John Bellucci, Sandro Kopp
swinton and gould release Fr 12.Mar.08,
UK 5.Dec.08,
US 8.May.09
08/France StudioCanal 2h24
julia With the opening shot, Swinton crushes her reputation as a cinematic ice queen. Blowsy and raucous, bitter and tough, her performance is a genuine tour-de-force that overcomes the film's chaotic, overlong running time.

After another night of partying and sex, Julia (Swinton) shows up late for work, dishevelled and hungover. So it's a bit of a surprise when her alcoholic neighbour Elena (Del Castillo) asks for help in taking her 8-year-old son Tom (Gould) from his wealthy father. After consulting her lawyer pal Mitch (Rubinek), who tells her she's crazy, Julia launches into an outrageous double-cross kidnapping plot. In her drunken state, she doesn't quite realise how unstable Elena is or how much she's scaring little Tom. And her crazy plan gets increasingly desperate by the minute.

Swinton is like a jolt of lightning with her wild hair and costumes and more attitude than the screen can contain. With what Mitch calls an "out of control, suicidal, blind alcoholic" at the centre, it hardly matters that the film's script is rather clunky, lurching into the story and packing the dialog with contrived back-stories. But as the plot gets increasingly over the top, all of the characters emerge as fascinating characters swirling around this impulsive compulsive liar.

Del Castillo's Elena is a messy, hilariously watchable character all her own, while Gould proves to be a remarkably brave young actor as he reveals Tom's feisty thoughtfulness in the face of considerable gunplay, harsh language, life-threatening situations and Julia's outrageous unpredictability. Eventually, an offbeat relationship blossoms between Julia and Tom that gives the movie a real kick. We know there's no way this can end well, but we can't do anything but hang on for the ride.

Director-cowriter Zonca has almost made two distinct films here. When Julia makes her mad dash for Mexico, there's still another hour to go, and the action mayhem gives way into something even darker and grittier. The result is that this overlong film feels as if it's being made up as it goes, just like Julia's ramshackle plan. Fortunately, Zonca keeps the focus on the characters, which makes the film both gripping and harrowing. You can see why the editor didn't want to cut even a single frame from Swinton's performance.

15 themes, language, violence, nudity
13.Dec.08
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White Lightnin’
3/5  
dir Dominic Murphy
scr Eddy Moretti, Shane Smith
with Edward Hogg, Muse Watson, Carrie Fisher, Owen Campbell, Stephanie Astalos-Jones, Raymond Waring, Kirk Bovill, Clay Steakley, Wallace Merck , Damian Samuels, Stephen Lester, Allison Varnes
hogg release US Jan.09 sff,
UK 25.Sep.09
09/UK 1h24

SUNDANCE FILM FEST
berlin film fest
edinburgh film fest
white lightnin' Loosely based on a real person, this unhinged drama gets increasingly lurid and grisly as it progresses. It's riveting, inventive filmmaking, but not remotely easy to watch.

In rural Appalachia, Jesco White (Campbell) is such a wild child that his daddy D-Ray (Watson) chains him to his bed so he won't sniff lighter fluid. Seeing his son as destined for a life in mental hospitals, D-Ray teaches him folk-dancing as an outlet. And after D-Ray is murdered, Jesco (now Hogg) uses makes a living as a dancer. Amid a life of drunken bar brawls, he falls for an older married woman (Fisher) who leaves her family for him. But Jesco is too obsessed with avenging D-Ray's death to have a normal life.

British filmmaker Murphy totally immerses us in a white trash environment: it's almost overwhelming not only in the imagery on display but also the attitudes that fill the story. Jesco's life is astonishingly brutal, filmed in an almost monochrome style with blacked-out screens to punctuate the story and mannered accents to heighten the local flavour (it was shot in West Virginia, Ohio and, of all places, Croatia).

All of this is extremely clever, building an atmosphere that's oppressive and disturbing. Throughout the story, Jesco's descent through addiction and violence is extremely unsettling, so much so that the film feels almost exaggerated and forced (even though it probably isn't). Hogg's performance is completely unnerving, capturing Jesco's pitch-black demons and contrasting them with his smiley dancing and slightly too-passionate romance. And while it's great to see Fisher on screen in such a vivid role, even she can't give the film the hint of humanity it so badly needs.

As it progresses, the film gets almost unbelievably grotesque, from the nightmarish flashback showing D-Ray's hideous death to Jesco's feverish quest for redemption. In the end, it's so outrageous that it feels almost like a corny comedy played dead straight. It's also not really about addiction or mental illness at all, but about a young man born in a bad place. And while it's a very difficult film to connect with on any level, we can't help but be impressed with Murphy's artistic achievement.

18 themes, violence, drugs, language
6.Feb.09 bff
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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