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last update 26.Sep.10
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Bonded by Blood
dir Sacha Bennett
scr Sacha Bennett, Graeme Muir
prd Terry Stone, Daniel Toland
with Adam Deacon, Tamer Hassan, Kierston Wareing, Terry Stone, Vincent Regan, Neil Maskell, Dave Legeno, Lucy Brown, Susie Amy, Michael Socha, Alex MacQueen, Simon Phillips
stone, maskell and hassan
release UK 3.Sep.10
10/UK 1h37
bonded by blood Based on the same true story previously told on film with skill (2000's Essex Boys) and without (2007's Rise of the Footsoldier), it's kind of difficult to understand why there's yet another movie version. Especially one as uninteresting as this.

In prison in the early 1990s, Darren (Deacon) gets tangled up with a group of drug-dealing thugs who hire him when he's released. He bonds most closely with middle-man Mickey (Regan) and tough guy Jack (Legeno), and all three are a bit wary of their fearsome coke-sniffing leader (Hassan), his goon Tony (Stone) and pusher Craig (Maskell). These six men have wives and children, but as a big deal comes together they divide into two camps with murderous intentions.

It's unclear why this story keeps being filmed, as it doesn't seem to say much about anything, besides being a cautionary tale about the violence of the drug business. As a true story, the series of events become central to the film, which leaves the characters under-developed and impossible to identify with. So despite decent performances, there isn't much depth to it.

There's also the problem that it's written and shot like a clunky TV soap with cliched dialog that seems to think that street attitude consists of effing using the same effing adjective every other effing word. Worse yet, it feels like we have dropped into the soap right in the middle, as the story doesn't have a discernible beginning, middle or end. So we never feel like we get a grip on any of the characters, and their interaction feels strained at best, laughable at worst.

The most unintentionally silly part of the story is the abrupt romance between Mickey and Pat's ex (a thankless role for the talented Wareing), which seems to come out of nowhere and develops off-screen with dizzying speed. In fact, much of the drama is out of sight, including Darren's own journey; he's the narrator and yet he's barely in the story, while one key element of his tale is a cinematic cheat. Meanwhile, the opposing groups plan assaults that are so ludicrously complicated that this could only be a true story. No one would write something this silly.

18 themes, violence, very strong language
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dir-scr Johannes Roberts
prd Paul Blacknell, Ernest Riera
with David Schofield, Eliza Bennett, Ruth Gemmell Juliet Aubrey, Emma Cleasby, Finlay Robertson, Roxanne McKee, Tom Mannion, Max Fowler, Mike Burnside, Christopher Adamson, Jamie Kenna
schofield and robertson release UK 17.Sep.10
10/UK 1h19

fright  fest
f Writer-director Roberts makes the most of a relatively simple premise, using sleek filmmaking and introspective performances to heighten the tension. But the plot itself feels oddly unfinished, so it leaves audiences feeling a bit lost.

Robert (Schofield) is a teacher who is still stunned after being attacked by a teen student. He also has a seriously strained relationship with his ex-wife (Aubrey) and teen daughter (Bennett), which isn't helped by the fact that he puts her in detention. Then one night after hours his worst fears are realised when a group of disgruntled students stealthily invade the school, killing people one by one on their way to Robert, who had the nerve to give them F's against the advice of his boss (Gemmell).

The film is impeccably shot and edited, with an unnerving musical score and some extremely clever set pieces that cut away from the actual violence. We are sometimes shown the aftermath of an attack, but nothing more. This slightly aloof directing style is hugely helped by the tight performances of the entire cast, all of whom hint at tasty subtext, which leads us to build expectations of where the plot is heading. But Roberts keeps surprising us.

Schofield is especially good as the tightly wound man who seems like he's about to explode. His scenes with Bennett sizzle with bitterness. We also really feel his frustration at the parent-pleasing policies of his boss, whom Gemmell plays with a superbly offhanded arrogance. And the most entertaining character is Robertson's dim-witted security guard. Everyone has some surprises up his or her sleeve as they reveal bits about their characters and draw us into the setting in some effectively terrifying scenes.

So it's rather frustrating that Roberts never quite brings things full circle. It feels like there's a big scene missing somewhere, the bit that would make the film meaningful and pointed. All of the elements are in place for that, but the story's central point remains annoyingly out of reach. Even so, there is a certain subdued skill to the way Roberts distils the action down to the bare essentials in the chilling final moments. It's very smart, but not hugely satisfying.

15 themes, violence, language, grisliness
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The Last Exorcism
dir Daniel Stamm
scr Andrew Gurland, Huck Botko
prd Marc Abraham, Thomas Bliss, Eric Newman, Eli Roth
with Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr, Louis Herthum, Caleb Landry Jones, Tony Bentley, John Wright Jr, Shanna Forrestall, Justin Shafer, Adam Grimes, Becky Fly, Logan Craig Reid
fabian and herthum release US 27.Aug.10,
UK 3.Sep.10
10/US 1h26


the last exorcism The best thing about this film is the way it continually subverts our expectations. It tells an unnerving story in a disarmingly natural way that's thoroughly believable, all without resorting to corny movie hokum. Until the end, that is.

Rev Cotton Marcus (Fabian) has been a preacher since he was a little boy, following in the footsteps of his father (Wright) to hold his congregation in the palm of his hand and exorcise demons when necessary. But a crisis has undermined his faith, so he hires a TV crew (Bahr and Grimes) to document the the ridiculous trickery he uses to perform one final exorcism. But nothing about this possessed girl (Bell), her father (Herthum) or brother (Jones) is as expected. And Cotton starts to doubt that there's a logical explanation.

Stamm assembles the film as if it's an offhanded documentary, casually shot around Cotton's normal life, capturing his interaction with his father, wife (Forrestall) and son (Shafer) with humour and intelligence. It's so under-produced that it feels utterly real, and the subtle acting helps maintain this authenticity as the characters find comedy and irony even in the most intense situations while reacting with recognisably real emotion.

As a result, we are drawn right into the events with them, and the film rarely feels as controlled as its predecessors (like Rec, Cloverfield or of course The Blair Witch Project). The only thing that rings false here is the fact that Cotton and his crew don't turn and run the moment things start getting weird. Or at least call the cops. Because while what they find may have a reasonable explanation, they are certainly not equipped to deal with any of it.

The film's final sequence is a little unnecessary; ending it a few minutes earlier would have made the film much more haunting, although perhaps mainstream audiences braying for cheap thrills would have felt unsatisfied. Because up to this point it's a fiendishly clever dramatic thriller, expertly shot and edited and performed with rare clarity. The characters are vivid and complex, and it's unusual for a genre film like this to be so exhiliaratingly unpredictable.

15 themes, violence
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The Secret of Kells
dir Tomm Moore
scr Fabrice Ziolkowski
prd Didier Brunner, Tomm Moore, Viviane Vanfleteren, Paul Young
with Evan McGuire, Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally, Christen Mooney, Liam Hourican, Paul Tylack, Paul Young, Michael McGrath, Venise du Bois du Roy
brendan and aidan release Ire 3.Mar.09,
US 4.Dec.09, UK 1.Oct.10
09/Ireland 1h15

berlin film  fest
edinburgh film fest
the secret of kells Stunning imagery and an unusual story lift this far above the average animated feature. With its deeply Irish themes and an inventive approach to illustration, it's like an ancient folk tale storybook come to life. No wonder Oscar voters noticed it.

In a Medieval village called Kells, the young Brendan (voiced by McGuire) has never been outside the walls. His uncle (Gleeson) is the abbot, and is only concerned with building strong defences against the marauding Viking horde. But Brendan and the other monks have art and history on their minds, and find themselves entranced when Father Aidan (Lally) comes to visit, bringing his mysterious, legendary book. Aidan takes an interest in Brendan, sparking his creativity and curiosity to venture into the forest outside the walls, where he meets the mysterious Aisling (Mooney).

Not only is this a beautifully simple story about inner yearning and humanity, but there are clear parallels with today's world as an unseen threat of attack warps our priorities and causes us to miss the important things that are happening around us. The film's script touches on all of this without ever being obvious about it, using warmth and wit as well as quietly churning suspense and telling, minimal dialog.

And just as impressive is the way it's been animated by a multi-national crew. The imagery is simply mesmerising, constantly in motion, playing with depth of field and deftly using colour and texture to create moods and feelings. The drawings are largely flat, and yet they achieve a layering so profound that we often feel like we're falling right into the scenes. The use of colour is especially vivid, sharply creating emotions and suspense.

This is lyrical and clever filmmaking, appealing to the imaginative child inside of us as we remember visualising our bedtime stories springing into action around us. It also playfully approaches a true story from Irish history with originality and skill. It's the kind of movie that will leave children mute with wonder and adults deeply moved. And the sheer magic of the tale feels like a timeless legend that we'll never forget.

PG themes, some violence
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