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last update 26.Feb.10
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Butch Jamie
dir-scr Michelle Ehlen
prd Michelle Ehlen, Leah Williamson
with Michelle Ehlen, Olivia Nix, Tiffany Anne Carrin, David Au, Andrea Andrei, Joe McDaniel, Mary Lynch, Nathan Edmondson, Matt Workman, Sherri A Ruark, Willow Baer, Patrick O'Connor
ehlen release US 4.Nov.09 dvd,
UK 8.Feb.10 dvd
07/US 1h24
butch jamie The premise of this comedy is essentially a reverse-gender Tootsie, using cross-dressing to poke fun at both sexuality and relationships. And the offhanded, funny dialog more than makes up for the low-budget production.

Wannabe actress Jamie (Ehlen) can't figure out how to land a role. When she dresses in a feminine way she feels utterly false, but her usual butch appearance puts off most casting directors. This is especially galling since her housemate Lola (Nix) is having far more success with her acting cat Howard. Finally, Jamie goes to an audition as herself and manages to land a film role playing a man. But while keeping her true gender a secret on-set, she catches the eye, and affections, of straight crew-member Jill (Carrin).

Yes, this is another film about being true to yourself and others, as Jamie grapples with whether she should tell Jill the truth or just carry on with the charade that she's really "Steve". And in fine farcical style, the plot deals with these issues in a way that's both convenient and rather contrived. But writer-director-actor Ehlen keeps it engaging with sharp wit and authentic characters who don't always do the right thing.

The film is sharply shot and edited and often very funny, especially all of the scenes involving Howard the cat (who even has a show-reel); Jamie's case of cat-envy is genuinely hilarious. Meanwhile, Ehlen and Carrin have a strong chemistry together that makes their growing relationship extremely believable, which helps us go along when the rom-com plotting kicks in. Clearly Ehlen can identify with Jamie's difficulty in landing roles, which is why she wrote and directed this one for herself, and why the premise has a real ring of truth.

And in addition to the film-set comedy, Ehlen playfully explores stereotypes and public personas, poking fun at the rigid categories society sets up, from the gay best friend (Au) to the aggressively masculine lesbian (Andrei). And even as the story gets increasingly silly, there's an underlying sense that Ehlen is grappling realistically with the issue of whether true happiness and maturity can only be achieved if we are fully honest with each other.

15 themes, language, innuendo
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Long Weekend
dir Jamie Blanks
scr Everett De Roche
prd Gary Hamilton, Nigel Odell
with Jim Caviezel, Claudia Karvan, Robert Taylor, John Brumpton, Roger Ward, Lara Robinson, Gordon Waddell, Jude Beaumont, Garry McMullen, Everett De Roche, Christopher Brown
caviezel and karvan
release US 4.Aug.09 dvd,
UK 8.Feb.10 dvd
08/Australia 1h28

edinburgh film fest fest
long weekend A slick remake of the classic 1978 shocker, this film has enough subtext to hold our interest even as things spiral out of control. If you've never seen the original, the escalating creep-out is extremely effective.

Peter and Carla (Caviezel and Karvan) are a bickering couple on a camping weekend at an isolated surfing beach. But everything seems to be going wrong, starting with the rumble of distant thunderclouds. Not to mention the dodgy sat-nav, sceptical locals, fire ants and a shadowy undersea creature. And their friends never show up to join them. Clearly this isn't going to be a happy holiday for this couple or their cheerfully doomed dog Cricket. Then things start getting even freakier.

There's a man-against-nature theme here, as Peter runs over a kangaroo, carelessly discards a cigarette and then starts chopping down trees for firewood. The couple's playfulness on the beach tries to hint at reconciliation but instead cleverly signposts something nasty to come. There are constant reminders about how fragile we are, from mould to weather to angry eagles. Then their personal past comes out, including infidelity, blame and emotional bitterness.

Director Blanks packs the film with surreal touches--strange accidents, roads to nowhere, the combination of nature's beauty and cruelty--and these add subtext to the jaggedly awkward relationship between the arrogant Peter and the tightly wound Carla. We can see them trying to relax, but Blanks continually reminds us of the genre with an ominous underscore and suggestive cutaways that whittle away at our nerves. It also has a Twilight Zone quality, as if they've travelled into a parallel evil dimension, complete with a final gut-wrenching kick.

When Peter starts maniacally shooting his gun at anything that moves, laughing like a little boy with a new toy, the effect is effectively haunting because it hints at issues beyond the scope of this film. The best thrillers are those that echo present-day society, and this one seems to do that almost by accident. Blanks clearly only wants to scare us, but along the way he also manages to make a pointed comment on how careless we are both with nature and each other.

15 themes, language, grisliness, violence
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Lucky Bastard
dir-scr Everett Lewis
prd Scott Arundale, Robert Shulevitz
with Patrick Tatten, Dale Dymkoski, Timothy Cole, Johnny Kostrey, Norma Louise, Nina Manni, Jane Fleiss, Ivor Brogger, Nathan Sutton, Lorin Doctor Clint Keepin, Sarah Hamblin
tatten release US 5.Dec.09 dvd,
UK 22.Feb.10 dvd
09/US 1h30
lucky bastard There's a realistic story and some resonant themes buried in this gay romance, but the film is so draggy that it never comes to life. And it doesn't help that, for what should be a bold story, the actors and filmmakers seem so skittish.

As Rusty (Tatten) mopes in the hotel room where he lives, his boyfriend Daniel (Kostrey) finally gives up waiting for a serious relationship. Rusty is an uptight rising-star architect, but things start to go off the rails when he meets Denny (Dymkoski), a striking drifter who drags Rusty into his aimless partying lifestyle of drugs and lowlifes. Soon Rusty's business partner (Cole) is struggling to keep the work projects on track as Rusty's life gets increasingly messy.

The plot has considerable promise, as it examines the tension between living the high life and settling down. But filmmaker Lewis gets bogged down in the drug-fuelled storyline, which obscures the difficult decisions the characters need to be making. As a result, the whole film becomes yet another cautionary tale of addiction rather than anything more deep or involving. And the pacing is so mopey that we are unable to care what happens.

In addition to the sombre tone, talky script and awkward plot, the cinematography is murky, with downbeat music and low-energy acting that makes the film feel like it's in slow motion. Lewis is aiming for an edgy approach to sexuality but shies away from anything lusty with corny cutaways and contrived camera angles. As a result, the relationships feel artificial. We never have a clue what Rusty sees in Denny. Sure, he's an attractive bit of rough, but he's also a narcissistic leech with a ludicrous sob story.

And then there's the ghastly dialog ("I'm a little confused right now" seems like Shakespeare compared with "I like houses because they can't reject me"). Plus several key characters who seem so divorced from reality that they probably should be locked up for observation. While there are some strong scenes that generate chemistry and emotion, much of the film features people gazing into the sky as if it means something. But it's hard to sympathise with someone who seems determined to throw his life away.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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dir-scr Harry & Bernard Shumanski
prd Bernard Shumanski
with Forth Richards, Benji Crisnis, Jake Casey, Theo Montgomery, Womack Daryl, Peter Petersen, Beatrice Carina, Heidi Blissenbach, Garett Dragovitz
richards release US 10.Nov.09 dvd,
UK 1.Mar.10 dvd
09/US 1h13
wrecked There's a nice hand-held approach to this earthy little film, but in their efforts to capture a bold Shortbus-style vibe, the filmmakers never create engaging characters and end up preaching an unconvincing message about the dangers of drugs.

Ryan (Richards) is a young actor trying to find work and love in the wake of an ugly breakup with Daniel (Crisnis), a drug addict who turns up again in need of a place to stay. Daniel promises to clean up his act, and Ryan allows him back into his life. But Daniel refuses to get a job and just sits around getting drunk and, yes, using drugs. Ryan tries to throw him out again, but keeps getting pulled back in, and soon this starts affecting his new role in a play.

Much of this film is clearly improvised, but you have to wonder if the filmmakers gave the cast much direction, as most of the dialog feels random and irrelevant and the actors all look a bit lost, gazing away from each other as if they're trying to think up something to say next. This leaves the film without any real sense of pace, even as it's trying desperately to be sexy and edgy.

It certainly doesn't help that the casting decisions seem to have been made not on acting ability but on willingness to get naked on camera. The actors are all vacuous twink types with little discernible personality, so while the central relationship between Ryan and Daniel has potential as an exploration of codependency, there's no chemistry between them. And Daniel is such a jerk that we never understand why Ryan is drawn to him.

While the film is skilfully shot and edited, it isn't helped by the bland porn-style electronic score. And then there's the odd mixture of explicit nudity combined with the filmmakers' reluctance to develop much real sexual energy. There's definitely a sense that they are holding back, trying to push the boundaries without actually delving beneath the surface. And in the end, the film has little to say to us about either abusive relationships or drug addiction beyond the fact that both are pretty bad.

18 themes, language, drugs, strong sexuality
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