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last update 16.Sep.09
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The Firm
dir-scr Nick Love
prd Allan Niblo, James Richardson
with Calum McNab, Paul Anderson, Daniel Mays, Eddie Webber, Camille Coduri, Billy Seymour, Joe Jackson, Richie Campbell, Ebony Gilbert, Doug Allen, Joanne Matthews, Jaff Ibrahim
mcnab and anderson release UK 18.Sep.09
09/UK Vertigo 1h30
the firm While Nick Love remains in his milieu of violent British cinema, at least this remake of an acclaimed 1989 TV movie is a superior hooligan movie. Even if we can't really identify with the characters, their story is fascinating.

In 1980s London, Dom (McNab) lives on an estate with his parents (Webber and Coduri), trying to find something he feels passionate about. He and his pal Terry (Seymour) just tend to get in trouble, and then they cross paths with Bex (Anderson), feared leader of the local football fan gang. Bex sees something interesting in Dom and invites him to join the firm, and soon Dom's dressing in top-brand tracksuits and heading off to wage war against other gangs. But when Bex's obsession turns more violent, Dom begins to have doubts.

Love clearly understands that this story has nothing to do with football; it's about the male ego and the need to find a place to fit in, even if it means sacrificing moral integrity. You hardly need to mention that the vintage leisurewear looks eerily like a military uniform, albeit a primary-coloured cartoon version. And Love rallies an impressive cast of extras for the crowded battle scenes, plus a triumphant, evocative 1980s song score.

Meanwhile, the dialog zings with humour and personality. Even if the lead teens aren't terribly accomplished actors, we accept them as awkward young guys trying to fit into what they perceive to be an adult world. Standouts in the cast are the scene-stealing Webber and the steely Mays as leader of a rival firm. Everyone in this film oozes so much bravado that it's almost overpowering, and most of the violence is of the verbal variety. To start with at least.

Essentially, the film is a series of sequences that build up to another clash between the firms, with telling scenes of hazing and other antics in between. But this makes for a structure that feels repetitive and a bit dull, mainly because we have no emotional connection with any of the characters. And as Bex takes things far beyond any sense of reason, the script begins to feel a little contrived and obvious. Why anyone would follow him into the brink is the film's main unanswered question.

18 themes, very strong language, violence
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The Girlfriend Experience
dir Steven Soderbergh
scr David Levien, Brian Koppelman
prd Mark Cuban, Gregory Jacobs, Todd Wagner
with Sasha Grey, Chris Santos, David Levien, Mark Jacobson, Glenn Kenny, Peter Zizzo, Christina Nadeau, William Holt, Michael Sugar, Philip Eytan, Vincent Dellacera, Caitlin Lyon
grey release US 22.May.09,
UK 20.Nov.09
09/US 1h18

edinburgh film fest
raindance film festival
the girlfriend experience Soderbergh is in experimental mode with this fractured relationship drama. It's packed with clever touches and sharp observations, but is too dry and repetitive to make us care about the characters.

Chelsea (Grey) is a high-priced call girl in New York, quietly going about her job while her boyfriend Chris (Santos) works as a trainer in an upscale gym. Both are obsessed with growing their businesses, which causes problems in their otherwise warm, relaxed relationship. This quest for money is also omnipresent in their wealthy clients, and everyone is nervous about the economic slump and imminent 2008 US presidential election. And for Chelsea and Chris, things come to a head when Chelsea starts to fall for a client (Levien).

Shot on handheld hi-def with mostly non-actors, the film has an earthy street-level feel that's belied by the slick widescreen imagery. It's also edited in a purring, teasing fashion that presents scenes and snippets out of sequence. Things do resolve into focus in the end, but the challenging structure undermines any emotional involvement and leaves us feeling as cold as the characters themselves.

Everything about this film screams money, from the luxurious settings to the sleek fashions. Most of the dialog is about investments, business opportunities and living the high life. And this empty approach to life is effectively portrayed through the dead eyes of characters who are just as much consumers as commodities. Both Chelsea and Chris have sold themselves to the highest bidders, and the film's real tragic centre is the fact that, even when they're alone together, they can only generate a semblance of an emotional life.

The side characters aren't much better, including a weasely journalist (Jacobson) interviewing Chelsea and a hilariously sleazy "erotic connoisseur" (Kenny) who wants to audition her for a special job. Meanwhile, Chris is invited to spend a weekend in Vegas with a client (Zizzo) and his chucklehead pals, and is unprepared for the reaction when he brazenly asks his boss (Holt) for a pay rise. In the end, these people are far too shallow to engage with, and it's exactly this fact that makes the film an important document of a time and place.

15 themes, language, nudity
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dir Bruce McDonald
scr Tony Burgess
prd Jeffrey Coghlan, Ambrose Roche
with Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak, Rick Roberts, Beatriz Yuste, Daniel Fathers, Rachel Burns, Hannah Fleming, Boyd Banks, Tony Burgess, Laura Nordin
houle and mchattie release Can 6.Mar.09,
UK 16.Oct.09
08/Canada 1h36

edinburgh film fest
fright fest
pontypool This is one of those little films that proves that you don't need a blockbuster budget to make a high-concept movie. McDonald and Burgess create a mass-chaos apocalyptic thriller with essentially just three characters in a windowless room.

On a snowy night in Canada, Grant Mazzy (McHattie) is presenting his early morning radio phone-in programme with the help of producer Sydney (Houle) and technician Laurel Ann (Reilly). Then they begin to hear reports from their traffic reporter (Roberts) about chaos in the town of Pontypool. But what starts as a seeming hostage situation turns out to be a vicious zombie-creating virus. Eventually, the marauding undead converge on the radio station, and Grant, Sydney and Laurel Ann have to figure out a way to survive.

At about the mid point in the film, a doctor (Alianak) helpfully crawls into the station's basement window, gives a nutty explanation of what he thinks is going on outside, then leaves as suddenly as he arrived. Besides being the film's only real plot exposition, this also demonstrates the gleefully silly approach the filmmakers are taking here. The cameras otherwise remain locked on this trio of characters as they listen to the carnage outside down the phone lines.

In other words, the whole film feels like a radio play. And visually it's not hugely interesting, mainly because it's so contained in the setting. A few scenes of zombie chaos spice things up, as do some random moments of raucous grisliness, but the limited perspective keeps the tension from ever really cranking up. On the other hand, it allows for some terrific performances, most notably from McHattie, who is clearly having a ball with his grizzled, sardonic character.

What's amazing is the way the filmmakers spin this simple premise into an effectively freaky little movie. With no big effects shots, and no real action to speak of, they keep us watching by focussing on the characters and making us feel trapped along with them while the world collapses outside. There's also an effectively mind-bending explanation for what's happening, something that's enjoyably cheesy and cleverly plays with the film's style. Just don't expect to be frightened.

15 themes, language, violence, grisliness
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dir-scr Christopher Smith
prd Julie Baines, Chris Brown, Jason Newmark
with Melissa George, Michael Dorman, Rachael Carpani, Liam Hemsworth, Henry Nixon, Emma Lung, Joshua Taylor, Bryan Probets, Jack Taylor
george and dorman
release UK 16.Oct.09
09/Australia 1h39

Opening film:
fright fest
triangle British filmmaker Smith (SEVERANCE) comes up with an effectively disorienting premise that consistently keeps us both unsettled and unsure what might happen next. It may be a bit vague for some viewers, but others will love it.

Jess (George) is clearly having a bad morning when she joins her friend Greg (Dorman) for a day trip on his gorgeous sailboat with his friends Sally and Downey (Carpani and Nixon), their friend Heather (Lung) and Greg's shipmate Victor (Hemsworth). After a sudden freak storm, they are rescued by an ocean liner that seems to be utterly empty. Except that they start dying one by one. Sort of. And Jess is the only one who has an inkling that she may be able to stop the cycle of violence.

Smith effectively establishes the characters in the opening sequence with just enough detail to fill in their personalities so we can pick and choose who to identify with. From the start, Jess is the emotional eye of the storm, as she obsesses about her son (Joshua Taylor) back home and travels to some very dark places as the story progresses. Except that it doesn't so much progress as swirl and undulate. Deducing exactly what's happening here probably isn't possible, so it's best to just sit back and let the film take you for a ride.

And trips into the Bermuda Triangle don't get much more gruesomely entertaining than this. Despite its repetitive structure, the film is packed with moments that make us jump, usually because Smith has carefully orchestrated a shock that feels even more powerful because we know it's coming. And the psychological aspect of the premise gives us plenty to grapple with as well, while providing George with another frazzled scream-queen role.

Like a hellish version of Groundhog Day, the film's structure feels like a scratched record, skipping around in circles as it torments poor Jess with unthinkable horror that doesn't always make logical or emotional sense. Some scenes are seriously savage in their brutality, and the cumulative freak-out is both grim and unnerving. Even if Smith's loose approach doesn't answer every dangling question, it still gets to us. Which is something rare in horror movies at the moment.

15 themes, language, grisly violence
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