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last update 15.Sep.09
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The Art of Being Straight
dir-scr Jesse Rosen
prd Ursula Camack, Jesse Rosen, Amy Wasserman
with Jesse Rosen, Rachel Castillo, Jared Grey, Johnny Ray Rodriguez, Pete Scherer, Jesse Janzen, Tyler Jenich, Bryan McGowan, Emilia Richeson, Jen Zaborowski, Alan LaPolice, Anne Reeder
rosen and rodriguez release US 5.Jun.09,
UK 21.Sep.09 dvd
08/US Regent 1h14
the art of being straight With a casual, recognisably real approach and a bright young cast, this gentle little drama accurately captures the curiosity and confusion of young adulthood, although it kind of muddles its approach by dodging some key issues.

On a break from his longtime girlfriend, Jon (Rosen) moves across the country to Los Angeles to live near his university pals Andy (Grey) and Maddy (Castillo). An aspiring photographer, he gets a job in an ad agency, where he's immediately pursued by the seductive Paul (Rodriguez). Clearly, Jon is questioning his sexuality, and Paul's advances only make him more bewildered. Meanwhile, Maddy is wondering if her girlfriend Anna (Richeson) is just a phase when she falls for her nice-guy neighbour Aaron (Scherer).

The dialog is packed with realistic awkwardness and deep-seated prejudice, as Andy's gang of friends use the word "gay" to mean "lame" and ridicule any hint of homosexuality. Which makes Jon's uncertainty that much more complicated, since he can't open up to them. All of this is played out with a scruffy authenticity by the lively, likeable cast, while Rosen's writing and direction nicely captures the rhythms of sunny L.A.

He also vividly captures the blurred identities of metrosexual 20-somethings, although this leaves the film feeling somewhat rudderless. Scenes drift along improv-style, with little direction or energy. Still, this makes it all feel even more genuine, as does Rosen's refusal to indulge in either Melrose melodrama or WeHo gay-scene antics. The characters bounce off each other clumsily, often getting things wrong but quietly learning from their experiences.

It's a rare film that takes such a subtle approach to coming-of-age, so it's a pity Rosen wasn't bolder in his approach. Everything feels tentative, which begins to grate as the story progresses. A little more edge--a willingness to push boundaries and really grapple with the issues--could have made this film much more powerful than it is. But the real problem is that the casual everyday homophobia, while extremely truthful, is portrayed as simply a guy thing, rather than insidious cultural bigotry that actually destroys lives.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
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Butterfly Kiss
dir Michael Winterbottom
scr Frank Cottrell Boyce
prd Julie Baines, Sarah Daniel
with Amanda Plummer, Saskia Reeves, Des McAleer, Ricky Tomlinson, Paul Bown, Emily Aston, Fine Time Fontayne, Katy Murphy, Freda Dowie, Joanne Cook, Kathy Jamieson, Lisa Riley, Paula Tilbrook
reeves and plummer release UK 18.Aug.95,
US 26.Apr.96
reissued 7.Sep.09
95/UK Lionsgate 1h28
butterfly kiss Winterbottom's feature debut is a forceful, uncompromising road movie that combines romance, obsession and grisly violence in constantly surprising ways. It's utterly unnerving cinema that feels like a blast of fresh air.

Tattooed, pierced and hyperactive, Eunice (Plummer) is a compulsive spree of violence in northwest England. But one shop clerk, Miriam (Reeves), takes her aback. Immediately intrigued by the outrageous Eunice, Miriam follows her like a puppy dog on an increasingly violent road trip. It's clear that their attachment is deeply unhealthy, as Miriam is both scared and fascinated by the Eunice's fearlessness. Even as Miriam vows to save Eunice from this brutal life, Eunice knows her own power: "I'll make you evil before you make me good."

Winterbottom maintains a ruthless energy throughout this film, which takes off full speed without bothering to fill in anyone's past. His direction is confident, witty and remarkably urgent, grabbing hold and never letting go. The story is framed by Miriam's narration, delivered in a police interrogation cell, which makes it clear that something will go horribly wrong. Not that we would have had any doubts without this, as the film echoes Thelma and Louise by way of Natural Born Killers.

Reeves is terrific as the somewhat naive young woman tho finds herself attracted by a dark and dangerous life even as she keeps looking on the bright side ("I try not to think about what Eunice did to other people; I try to think about what she did to me"). But it's Plummer who takes the breath away with her fiercely iconic turn as Eunice. It seems impossible that she didn't get awards recognition for this raw, gutsy performance (until you think how much it would have terrified male voters!). It's just as urgent and electrically charged as DeNiro in his prime.

This is a riveting little film that's really worth a look. Even after all these years, it feels pure and real, about as far from Hollywood's repetitive production line as you can get. And even with some great work in his filmography, I'm not sure Winterbottom has ever topped this one.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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It’s Alive
dir Josef Rusnak
scr Larry Cohen, Paul Sopocy, James Portolese
prd Moshe Diamant, Robert Katz, Marc Toberoff
with Bijou Phillips, James Murray, Raphael Coleman, Owen Teale, Jack Ellis, Skye Bennett, Arkie Reece, Todd Jensen, Ty Glaser, Oliver Coopersmith, Yoan Karamfilov, Mariana Stanisheva
release UK 7.Sep.09 dvd,
US 6.Oct.09 dvd
08/US 1h20

fright fest
it's alive This remake of Larry Cohen's 1974 cult horror classic adopts that bland American style that makes it feel like anyone could have made it. At least it generates a creepy sense of impending doom with the demon-baby scenario.

In New Mexico, Lenore (Phillips) is looking forward to starting her university degree. She's six months pregnant by her loving, saintly boyfriend Frank (Murray), who cares for his brother Chris (Coleman), disabled after the accident that killed their parents. But the pregnancy takes a turn when the baby is born prematurely, and all of the doctors and nurses are found brutally murdered in the delivery room. It takes a while for Lenore to realise that something is wrong with little Daniel, who starts munching on small animals before moving on to people.

Where the original film was gritty and nasty, this film is pure corn, with bog-standard movie horror music trying desperately to crank up the suspense while keeping the actual attacks off screen. There is some moody atmosphere, but by not showing the baby in action, the filmmakers seem to be admitting that the whole thing is deeply ludicrous. And while a few shots of vicious little hands generate a smile along with the hideous carnage they create, later shots of the shark-toothed infant come across as hilariously silly.

Meanwhile, poor Phillips dives into the character despite a complete lack of logic; Lenore comes across as bipolar, being horrified at what the baby does, then fiercely protective of him as she cleans up each mess. It simply makes no sense, and yet she's the most interesting person in the film. No one else has a personality at all, and most seem written only to be baby food.

When the film tries to blame everything on emergency contraception, it begins to feel preachy as well as half-hearted. In the end, the filmmakers attempt both a fiery climax and an emotional finale, but neither works because there isn't even hint of a pay-off to what came before. Actually, the scariest thing about this film is the way it makes us terrified of what classic they'll lamely attempt to remake next.

18 themes, language, grisliness
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dir Chip Hale
scr Charlie David
prd Linda Carter, Charlie David
with Dan Payne, Thea Gill, Charlie David, Derek James, Grace Vukovic, Amy Matysio, Anthony Joseph, Nhi Do, Calum Worthy, Patrick Baynham, Anne Chaland, Thomas Orr-Loney
james and david release Can 17.Oct.08,
US 21.Apr.09 dvd,
UK 14.Sep.09 dvd
08/Canada 1h32
mulligans With real sensitivity, this emotive drama touches on serious issues in a way we rarely see on screen. There's never a hint of sensationalism about it; this is a believable story that's probably much more common than we think.

On summer break, Tyler (James) invites university pal Chase (David) to the family holiday home on Vancouver Island, introducing him to parents Nathan and Stacey (Payne and Gill) and little sister Birdie (Vukovic). Amid the golfing, swimming and house parties, Chase resists Tyler's attempts to hook him up with a woman ("Let's just say our interests are a little too similar"), finally admitting that he's gay. This sends ripples through the family, most notably with Nathan, who's been silently closeted his whole life. Then things trickier when Nathan and Chase discover a mutual attraction.

In golf, a mulligan is a second chance. Indeed, each character is forced to re-examine their opinions and feelings and plot a new course. As a result, the film feels somewhat melodramatic, centring on awkward relationships and internal angst rather than the various romantic connections. But the dialog is extremely well-written, and offers genuine insight into some difficult themes. It also gives the cast some terrific scenes to play.

Gill and Payne are especially strong in the film's increasingly complicated confrontations. James is also excellent in some delicate moments, while Vukovic offers a fresh take on the sassy little sis. And while David proves to be a gifted writer, his acting sometimes feels stiff (although it's better than in fluff like Dante's Cove). Even so, he's an actor we easily identify with, and he's terrific in some difficult scenes, most notably the strikingly believable coming out sequence.

Director Hale keeps the film lively and summery, which when combined with a cast that's rather too beautiful gives it a TVish veneer. And the apparent ages of the characters don't quite line up. But never mind: there are some subtle, clever touches along the way that add to the film's depth and keep us thoroughly involved. This is a gentle and intelligent look at sexuality (and homophobia) that's filled with realistic emotion and leaves us with plenty to think about.

15 themes, language
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall