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last update 3.Dec.09
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dir Steve Jacobs
scr Anna Maria Monticelli
prd Anna Maria Monticelli, Emile Sherman, Steve Jacobs
with John Malkovich, Jessica Haines, Eriq Ebouaney, Fiona Press, Antoinette Engel, Charles Tertiens, Paula Arundell, Scott Cooper, Monroe Reimers
malkovich and haines release US 11.Sep.09,
UK 4.Dec.09
08/South Africa Fortissimo 1h59

disgrac Slow-paced and quietly involving, this drama, based on a JM Coetzee novel, is so packed with big issues that it sometimes feels like a bit too much. But it's provocative and fascinating, and never offers any easy answers.

David (Malkovich) is a professor at a Cape Town university who shocks the community with his unrepentant attitude toward a manipulative affair he has with a student (Engel). Shamed into leaving his post, he goes to live with his daughter Lucy (Haines) on her remote farm, where he helps Lucy's friend Bev (Press) in her work at a local animal sanctuary. After a nasty event, David is unnerved to discover that Lucy has given some land to her farmhand Petrus (Ebouaney) and that she's happy for Petrus to have the upper hand.

This is a complex, challenging look at issues facing post-Apartheid South Africa, and some of the nuances of the situation might be lost on foreign audiences. But the film is so well-made that it has the ability to get under our skin and constantly surprise us with our own reactions as we keep switching sides in various debates that perhaps seem unrelated. The filmmakers are exploring issues of power here, and their approach is anything but simplistic.

Malkovich is a superb presence at the centre of the film: quietly intense, a little creepy and thoroughly believable as a man who has chosen to ignore whatever society tells him to do. Most impressive is how he continually wins our sympathy, against the odds, and helps us understand the larger issues that are roaring under the surface. His scenes with the excellent Haines are terrific, as are his more open-handed moments with Press. The whole cast effortlessly blends raw emotion with sharp wit.

So it's a bit strange that a film so packed with solid material could feel so aloof and untouchable. Kind of like David himself, this story plays with principles but doesn't really act on them. And as the film blurs the lines between power and desire, it starts to feel heavy and rather grim, like a twisted fable about a nation that hasn't quite begun to find a way out of its own dark history.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Do99ing: A Love Story
dir Simon Ellis
scr Brock Norman Brock, Michael Groom
prd Jane Hooks, Brock Norman Brock, Allan Niblo
with Luke Treadaway, Kate Heppell, Richard Riddell, Sammy T Dobson, Michael Socha, Justine Glenton, Allen Mechen, Sean Francis, Malcolm Freeman, Mike Rivers, Peter Reid, Brian Dean-McMinn
riddell and treadaway release UK 26.Dec.09
09/UK Vertigo 1h43
dogging: a love story For a film about people who have sex in public places, this film is strangely sweet and shy about sex. Also in fine British tradition, it plays the romantic plotlines like a charmingly awkward farce.

In order to kick-start his career, wannabe Newcastle journalist Dan (Treadaway) decides to write an article about dogging, people who have random sex in car parks. Just broken up from his intense girlfriend Tanya (Dobson), he's living with his sex-mad friend Rob (Riddell), who found his new girlfriend Sarah (Glenton) while dogging. Meanwhile, Dan is chatting online to Laura (Heppell), who's intrigued by the idea and thinks that maybe it's a way to get rid of her hyperactive stalker Jim (Socha).

The filmmakers seem to think that dogging is a thrillingly sleazy cultural trend, but that's about as deep as their interest goes. They never break the surface to examine why people might like to have sex in public, and they never attempt to make dogging relevant to the central characters, besides its use as a plot device. In other words, it feels like a movie that's made by outsiders trying to capitalise on a tabloid phenomenon. It's like a computer illiterate person trying to make a rom-com set in the world of Facebook.

That said, the film does manage to develop an edgy tone and some cheeky energy through spiky characters and some amusing vox pops about sexual practices. Treadaway is cute and shy as Dan, and at least we're never bored while watching him fall into this increasingly tangled web of sometimes hilarious characters (Socha is the stand-out). All of them are extremely sketchy, but the actors add quirks that bring them to life.

Where things really wobble is in the way the filmmakers start to moralise about their own story. In addition to several rather painful coincidences, the plot is constantly aware of how naughty everyone is, which undermines the entire premise. And every time the situations approach something complex or potentially provocative, the writers and director shy away from them, opting instead for silly exaggeration or farcical wackiness. So in the end, it just feels like a big tease.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Eating Out: All You Can Eat
dir Glenn Gaylord
scr Phillip J Bartell
prd Kirk Cruz, Michael Shoel
with Rebekah Kochan, Daniel Skelton, Chris Salvatore, Michael ER Walker, Mink Stole, Leslie Jordan, Julia Cho, John Stallings, Maximiliano Torandell, Sumalee Montano, Cristina Balmores, Rick D'Agostino
salvatore and skelton
release US 9.Oct.09,
UK 1.Feb.10 dvd
09/US 1h20

See also:

eating out: all you can eat Only two characters from Q Allan Brocka's first two films are back for this extremely thin sequel, which despite some funny dialog feels like it was thrown together without either attention to detail or any thought about the themes.

After her friends Kyle and Marc die in a car crash, sassy diva Tiffani (Kochan) must overcome her grief to help the naive, gawky Casey (Skelton) adjust to life in Los Angeles. He's wary of the sex-and-muscle gay scene, but is immediately attracted to charity worker Zack (Salvatore), who has just gone through a messy breakup. To lure him in, Tiffani gets Zack to use photos of her muscly ex Ryan (Walker) for an online profile. And when Ryan shows up, the farce begins.

The problem here isn't with the plot, which carries on the series' blurring of sexuality in clever, comical situations, but with the slack writing and directing. The dialog, while peppered with some very sharp lines, is also packed with corny cliches while. And the film is assembled without any sense of pace at all, never building up to a confrontation/climax and allowing the actors to indulge in lazy performances that are either overwrought (Kochan) or awkward (Skelton).

This is especially surprising since Kochan was so strong in the previous two films, but feels like she's floundering here, trying far too hard to be snappy and sexy and failing on both fronts mainly because director Gaylord (surely a pseudonym) never does anything with her character. This leaves the scene-stealing comical moments to veterans Stole and Jordan (as an advice-spouting aunt and a seasoned charity worker). They get the script's best lines, perhaps because they improvised them.

The film is bright and silly enough to be watchable but, while the first two films used solid themes to subtly undermine the stupid gay-com genre, this one wallows in it. Beyond the superficial goofiness, there's nothing going on here at all. And while there's a bit of nudity aimed at the core audience, nothing is remotely sexy. We never believe that these people like--let alone lust--after each other. So please spare us Part 4, unless Brocka comes back as a writer.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
dir Bob Gosse
scr Tucker Max, Nils Parker
prd Karen Firestone, Richard Kelly, Tucker Max, Sean McKittrick, Nils Parker, Max Wong
with Geoff Stults, Matt Czuchry, Jesse Bradford, Keri Lynn Pratt, Marika Dominczyk, Noah Podell, Meagen Fay, Edward Hibbert, Traci Lords, Paul Wall, Susie Abromeit, Elise Ivy
czuchry, stults and bradford release US 25.Sep.09,
UK 1.Jan.10
09/US 1h45
I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell Amusing but oddly unfunny, this film seems unsure whether it wants to be a black comedy or a gross-out romp, so it falls between the two genres. While there are some terrific scenes, the movie as a whole never amounts to anything.

Dan (Stults) is getting ready to marry Kristy (Pratt) when his best friend Tucker (Czuchry) convinces him to lie to her about his stag night. A relentless womaniser, Tucker wants to take Dan and their mopey pal Drew (Bradford) to a legendary strip club for a last fling. But it's 250 miles away, which Kristy isn't happy about since there's a lot to be done to get ready for the wedding. Of course, she finds out. And everything goes spectacularly wrong.

Director Gosse is clearly shooting on a budget, but he makes the most of the cheesy production design by wallowing in the lurid colours and making sure all of the characters are full of attitude. Most intriguingly, Tucker Max is a real person (see the writing and producing credits), and the script is based on real events. Of course Czuchry is very good-looking, but he plays the character as a misogynist, sexist jerk who simply can't understand why no one likes him. The script attempts a half-hearted redemption in the end, but you have to admire the filmmakers for making this guy so relentlessly unbearable.

The problem is that we never laugh at any of this. The up-for-it cast make it watchable, simply because they add energy to the free-wheeling sense of chaos. The story also gets rather dark at times, as the characters face some intense issues. But these moments are set alongside the requisite bodily fluid humour, which is extremely explicit and never actually comical.

While many of these outlandish situations have the ring of truth to them, they're pretty lame on screen. In the end, this awkward mixture of stupid vulgarity and desperate moralising undoes the film completely. The final sequence is so illogical and unconvincingly sentimental that it hurts to watch. Only beer-swilling chuckleheads in the audience will still be laughing.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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