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last update 14.Oct.10
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In Our Name
dir-scr Brian Welsh
prd Michelle Eastwood
with Joanne Froggatt, Mel Raido, Chloe Jayne Wilkinson, Andrew Knott, Janine Leigh, Drew Horsley, John Henshaw, Bill Fellows, Steve Wraith
wilkinson and froggatt release UK 10.Dec.10
10/UK 1h30

london film fest
in our name This sharply well-made film explores the troubled life of soldiers trying to reintegrate into life back home after a tour of duty. It's harsh and realistic for the most part, but starts to feel a little pushy in the final act.

Suzy (Froggatt) arrives home from Iraq to find her entire family waiting to celebrate. But she just wants to spend some time with her young daughter Cass (Wilkinson), who won't speak with her. Her husband Mark (Raido), naturally, just wants to get to bed. Mark is also a veteran, so he understands her trauma to a degree, but things get increasingly tense over the next days and weeks, as Suzy starts to worry that her family is under attack and Mark grows suspicious that she had a fling with another soldier (Knott).

Writer-director Welsh acutely captures the intensity that grows within this family. The script is minimal and razor sharp, while the film is shot and edited with telling insight into the characters. In some ways, this is a little too orchestrated, as every action seems to require some clear explanation and each conversation pushes the clashing characters further into conflict.

The raise the level of authenticity with extremely dark emotions. Froggatt is believable as both a tough soldier and a fragile young woman. Her conversations with Cass feel extremely truthful, and the slightly contrived scene in which she tells a harrowing frontline story is genuinely unsettling. Opposite her, Raido is very good as the sulking man who takes a lot longer than his wife to erupt. But both characters are such realistic bundles of nerves that we lean back from the screen in anticipation of an explosion between them.

Through all of this, the script maintains a balance between overpowering tension and offhanded moments of humour and tenderness. The emotions are right on the surface, and yet no one will express how they really feel, so as the requirements of the plot kick in things start to get pretty scary. A late shift from gritty drama into full-on Rambo mode threatens to derail the whole film, and Welsh struggles to get it back on track. But he should be commended for highlighting such a serious issue with such bracing honesty.

18 themes, strong language, violence, sexuality
27.Sep.10 lff
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Ollie Kepler’s Expanding Purple World
dir-scr-prd Viv Fongenie
with Edward Hogg, Andrew Knott, Jodie Whittaker, Cathy Tyson, Jessica Pidsley, Simon Paris, George Keeler, James Aukland, Mo Banerjee, Christina Wood, Julia Barrie, Craig Brauns
hogg release UK Jun.10 eiff
10/UK 1h30

london film fest
Ollie Kepler's Expanding Purple World With well-played characters and an intriguing premise, this British drama starts out extremely well, promising an open-handed examination of mortality. Instead, it slides into annoying repetition and makes its central character relentlessly abrasive.

Web designer Ollie (Hogg) knows there's something strange about him. "Maybe I was always weird," he says, as his mind spins off yet again on some new cosmological idea. Of course, this drives everyone around him nuts, including his girlfriend Noreen (Whittaker) and his best friend Tom (Knott). But when Noreen has a sudden embolism, Ollie's world begins collapsing around him, sending him into a deep funk in which he starts to believe that nothing is real. And when voices in his head start talking to him, things start to get scary.

Filmmaker Fongenie has a strikingly visual sense, taking us into Ollie's deteriorating mind with a clever use of colour and witty low-fi effects. The film also captures life in London with remarkable authenticity and, in the opening scenes at least, features easy, natural performances form the entire cast. But as Ollie's life starts to slip out of his control, the film turns relentlessly dark, wallowing in the murky misery along with Ollie and leaving us out in the cold.

That said, this is a striking portrait of mental illness, and Hogg is a very strong actor who's able to carry us seamlessly from the well-balanced Ollie at the beginning into the increasing darkness of delusion. The problem is that it's painfully obvious that Ollie is deeply, dangerously disturbed, so why won't anyone insist that he gets some professional help? His paralysing distress at the thought that aliens are trying to freeze his brain is difficult to watch.

And as Ollie's disorder increases, the film struggles to hold the story together. Scenes become choppy and the narrative loses its momentum, lurching from one freak-out to the next. And while this effectively helps us experience Ollie's mental collapse, it also feels rather pretentious. In the end, we lose our patience with the film in the same way Tom loses his patience with Ollie. It's simply too chaotic, annoying and exhausting to put up with.

15 themes, language, violence
24.Jun.10 eiff
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dir-scr JB Ghuman Jr
prd Chad Allen, Honey Labrador, Geric Frost, Christopher Racster
with Savannah Stehlin, Sydney Park, Rachel Fox, Michael Arnold, Oana Gregory, Rodney Eastman, Beth Grant, Chad Allen, Yeardley Smith, Keith David, Elaine Hendrix, Richard Riehle
stehlin and arnold
release US Apr.10 tff,
UK Oct.10 lff
10/US 1h26

london film fest
spork Rather too mannered for its own good, this colourful teen comedy combines serious subject matter with a silly production style, like the corny, cheap lovechild of Johns Waters and Hughes.

"Spork" (Stehlin), age 14, got her nickname because she was born both male and female. After finally standing up to the school's top mean girl Betsy (Fox), she's in big trouble. But sassy neighbour Tootsie Roll (Park) gets her out of her funk simply by refusing to let her sulk quietly at home while forcing her to learn how to dance in time for the school dance-off. Meanwhile, she's bonding with her classmate Charlie (Arnold), who accepts her as she is. Now if only Spork could accept herself.

Writer-director Ghuman takes an almost hyperactive approach to the material, as if lurid colours, crazy visuals and big dance numbers would cover over the film's low budget and inexperienced young cast. But all it seems to do is distract us from the dark undercurrents of the story. Even the wacky costumes and hairstyles undercut the film, as it's clear that a hairbrush would make Spork's life a lot easier, not to mention less ridiculous glasses and clothing that fits. (Actually, everyone's hair in this film is pretty appalling.)

This is a shame because the film has some important things to say, and Spork's struggle to make sense of who she is resonates strongly. But every time there's a chance to make a sharp point about loneliness, bullying or self-doubt, Ghuman weakens it with another bit of broad wackiness. Some of these things are genuinely funny, in a blackly comical sort of way, but other gags feel forced and random. Even ace comical actors like Grant and David feel somewhat wasted.

It's fairly clear from the start that this is a coming-of-age film, so even though we don't know what Spork will discover about herself, we're fairly sure she'll work things out with the help of her family and friends. So there's not much tension in the film at all. Her rough-diamond big brother and guardian Spit (Eastman) knows that she's just fine as she is, and it's clear she'll realise this too.

15 themes, language, violence, drugs
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dir-scr Zach Clark
prd Zach Clark, Daryl Pittman, Melodie Sisk
with Trieste Kelly Dunn, Lydia Hyslop, Maggie Ross, Melodie Sisk, Michael Abbott Jr, Tara Everhart, Martha Stephens, Tony Greenberg, Ellie Nicoll, Hannah Bennett
vacation! release UK Jun.10 eiff
10/US 1h30

edinburgh film fest
raindance film fest
vacation! Colourful and way over-the-top, this comedy-horror romp is far too cheesy to really work, although it definitely has its moments. Yet even though it's almost watchably silly, it never pays off on its promise.

When four friends (Dunn, Hyslop, Ross and Sisk) decide to have some girl time at a beach house, they're trying to recover from some sort of near-death experience by having a giggly, dancing, mindless getaway. Between lounging in the sun by day and the hot tub by night, they torment the locals wearing blonde wigs and calling each other Zsa Zsa and Muffy. They're not really interested in men, although a local surfer (Abbott) is always around. And when he sells them some acid, things start to turn much darker than they expected.

The film's opening section has a tacky, comical tone that overcomes the clunky production values to keep us smiling. Even the atrocious home-video style camera work, dire sound mix and grating electronic score seem appropriate for such a goofy movie. And the cast's wooden performances seem just right as well. But when things start to get serious, everything falls apart quickly.

The main problems are Clark's writing and direction. The characters have no personalities at all, so it's no wonder that the actresses can do nothing with the roles. And when things get scary, the film turns sluggish and boring. There's a lot of emoting without any actual emotion, the drug trip is just a string of lame cliches and the plot itself gets increasingly contrived and implausible. As a result it's impossible to have any sympathy with the characters (what characters?) as things get frenzied.

It's almost like Clark had this great premise and thought he'd work out the plot as he went along. Dialog feels badly improvised, which means conversations are both aimless and pointless. After the set-up, the story creeps along so tediously that we start to lose the will to live. While the premise and cast have the potential to be dry and funny, the film turns indulgent and draggy, and events simply make no sense at all. It's a mess of a movie that really could have been good fun.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
22.Jun.10 eiff
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