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last update 3.Dec.09
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The Descent: Part 2
dir Jon Harris
scr J Blakeson, James McCarthy
prd Christian Colson, Ivana Mackinnon
with Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Krysten Cummings, Gavan O'Herlihy, Joshua Dallas, Anna Skellern, Douglas Hodge, Doug Ballard, Josh Cole, Michael J Reynolds, Axelle Carolyn, Jessika Williams
macdonald release UK 4.Dec.09
09/UK 1h34

the descent part 2 By the end of 2005's THE DESCENT, it's hard to imagine where you could possibly go from there. But the writers of this sequel tenaciously contrive to get us back underground for more scary darkness and gratuitous grisliness.

After surviving the horrific encounter with a underground society of blind, naked carnivorous mutants, Sarah (Macdonald) is left dazed and amnesiac. But Appalachian sheriff Vaines (O'Herlihy) talks her into heading back into the cave to see if her friends are alive, taking his deputy Rios (Cummings) as well as a professional rescue team (Dallas, Skellern and Hodge). The question is whether they'll find survivors, and how long it'll take for them to become mutant food.

The script takes its time establishing each character as a genre stereotype so we can start putting them in death order before they start dying one-by-one. But the writers didn't spend nearly as much time generating story logic. The premise is deeply flawed by one rather gaping hole--no, not that cave of horrors, but rather the fact that the police talk a wounded and clearly unhinged woman into returning to the life-threatening scene of her trauma.

But never mind, this film isn't about logic. It's about making us squirm in our seats as we confront claustrophobia and monsters in the dark. Except that it's not quite as pitch black this time round. Perhaps our eyes are getting used to the lack of light, but it's more likely that director Harris decided that Neil Marshall maybe forgot to illuminate his sets (and cast) properly. But seeing what's there only makes it look a little silly.

All of this to say that there's not much reason for this film to exist, even though it effectively keeps us grimacing at what we might see in the next preposterous set piece. The cast does what they can with their characters, and both Macdonald and Mendoza clearly enjoy reprising their roles, adding nasty little scene-chewing twists. It's an efficiently made, straightforward horror movie, packed with cheap scares and grisly yuckiness that will appeal to genre fans. But it's neither new nor particularly inventive.

18 themes, language, grisly violence
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dir Lindy Heymann
scr Leigh Campbell
with Nichola Burley, Kerrie Hayes, Jamie Doyle
release Jun.09 eiff
09/UK 1h22

edinburgh film fest
london film fest
kicks Clearly aiming for a My Summer of Love vibe, this British dramatic thriller taps into the world of celebrity sportsmen to tell a story about obsession. It's an intriguing idea, but the film is too timid and awkward to really get going.

Two 15-year-old girls are bored with their life in Liverpool. Nicole (Hayes) lives with an absent mother, while her rich friend Jasmine (Burley) has parents who are more interested in plastic surgery than her. They spend their afternoons lusting after their favourite football player, Lee (Doyle), and are stunned when they find out he's transferring to Madrid. Suddenly their yearning to catch his attention becomes something with a purpose, and they cross the line, confronting Lee about his plans on a night during which anything could happen.

Both Hayes and Burley create realistic teens who are desperately trying to act older than their years, strutting around the city dressed like cheap hookers while they try to get into the cool nightclubs and create a private space of their own in a caravan abandoned by Nicole's brother. But this clunky plot devise takes an even more contrived turn when they find a pistol in a drawer. We know it will appear later on.

This simplistic scripting keeps us from believing the story, and much of the interaction feels forced. It's also directed with a strange reticence to get truly dark, cutting away from key plot elements as if director Heymann is afraid of offending anyone. But the premise offers possibilities to actually explore the WAGs phenomenon--young women whose only ambition is to be a wife or girlfriend to a rich man. Is the film suggesting this is because they have parents who don't care what they do? Or that these girls are genuinely disturbed?

Whatever it's about, the film has a nicely eerie tone but not much more than that. The pacing is slow and uninvolving, the editing is fragmented, and the themes remain just out of reach. Even the object of their affection is a bit of a muddle. Sure, when we meet him, he turns out to be far from the angelic gentleman they imagine him to be. But he's not that bad really. And neither are his unhinged stalkers. In the end the film feels like a low-budget experiment that didn't quite work.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
15.Jun.09 eiff
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London River
dir Rachid Bouchareb
prd Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Brehat
scr Rachid Bouchareb, Zoe Galeron, Olivier Lorelle
with Brenda Blethyn, Sotigui Kouyate, Sami Bouajila, Roschdy Zem, Francis Magee, Marc Baylis, Diveen Henry, Bernard Blancan, Aurelie Eltvedt, Gurdepak Chaggar
kouyate and blethyn
release UK Oct.09 lff,
US Oct.09 afi
09/UK 1h27

berlin film fest
london film fest
london river Quiet and contained, this film feels like a TV movie due to its somewhat gentle look at a serious issue. But there's real strength in its performances. And it has something significant to say as well, without ever preaching.

Elisabeth (Blethyn) is a widow living in Guernsey, and when she hears about the 7 July 2005 bombings, she immediately phones her daughter in London to make sure she's OK. When she can't reach her, she heads to the city, quickly realising how little she knows about her life there. Meanwhile in France, Ousmane (Kouyate) also decides to head to London to find his son, whom he hasn't seen since he was 6. Soon, these two people realise they're on the same trail, and that their children knew each other.

The film is a bundle of unspoken fears and prejudices, as these two people are instantly wary of each other even as they realise that this might be the only link they have to their child. But it takes awhile for them to trust each other. Most striking is Elisabeth's resistance to work with a Muslim in the wake of what looks like an Islamic terrorist attack. And Blethyn catches this perfectly, never trying to apologise for Elisabeth's attitudes but also showing that Elisabeth knows it's an irrational fear.

These kinds of subtleties are what makes the film fascinating to watch. Both Blethyn and Kouyate pack their still, realistic characters with emotion and tenacity. As they interact they're genuinely surprised to discover that they actually have some things in common beyond their children. And while there's a constant sense that they're heading for the worst news imaginable, there's also a glimmer of real hope.

Into the mix are some small but key roles for a local imam (Bouajila), the neighbourhood shopkeeper (Zem) and the policeman (Magee) helping them in their search. And filmmaker Bouchareb lets the plot develop slowly and naturally. There are a few moments that ring false, but the complexities of the characters make the film thoroughly involving, especially as it probes some challenging issues in a way that can genuinely help us understand what's really important in life.

PG themes
22.Oct.09 lff
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Mr. Right
dir David Morris, Jacqui Morris
scr David Morris
prd Jacqui Morris
with Georgia Zaris, Luke de Woolfson, Jeremy Edwards, James Lance, Rocky Marshall, Benjamin Hart, David Morris, Leon Ockenden, Maddie Planer, Lucy Jules, Rick Warden, Katy Odey
ockenden and edwards release US Jul.09 outfest;
UK 27.Nov.09
09/UK 1h35

mr right This is a shallow, superficial film about shallow, superficial people. It's nicely shot and features some strong performances, but as it tries to be both racy and moralistic, it won't satisfy many audiences.

Louise (Zaris) is a lively Londoner with a collection of gay pals. Her best mate is Alex (de Woolfson), a wannabe actor stuck in a catering job and a happy-but-wobbly relationship with TV producer Harry (Lance). William (Marshall) is an antiques expert with a petulant actor boyfriend, Lawrence (Ockenden), while wealthy artist Tom (Morris) shacks up with toyboy hunk Larrs (Hart). Naturally, Louise's new boyfriend Paul (Edwards) is nervous about meeting this sassy, snappy crowd. But if he's Mr Right, he'll have to live in Louise's world.

The key moment is when Paul has dinner with everyone, causing tremors in each relationship: Alex goes off to find himself, Lawrence snaps about how much time William spends with his sparky daughter (Planer), Larrs comes on to Harry. So the rest of the film is spent tying up the loose ends of all four rom-com storylines. And while each has moments of both big comedy and sharp emotion, they're played as silly farce, without much insight into the serious themes that are raised.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, although the film's slightly lurching plot and lack of focus on a single character's perspective keeps us from ever getting very involved. As does the fact that no one is terribly likeable. This isn't the fault of the lively and very watchable cast members, who add touches that develop some nice chemistry along the way. Although this is done through flirting glances and cheeky innuendo; there isn't a single moment of genuinely lusty attraction.

This isn't the kind of film you expect to be full of moralistic messages, but the filmmakers can't resist preaching. Righteous jealousy swells everywhere and verdicts are pronounced on the thinnest information. Still, there are provocative comments along the way (is it better to look for Mr Right or learn to live with yourself first?), and in the end the most interesting thing is that we're surprised that we care about the sometimes bad decisions these people make.

15 themes, language, innuendo
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