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last update 21.Feb.11
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dir-scr Col Spector
prd Alicia Brown
with Gerard Kearns, Chris Coghill, Al Weaver, Daisy Haggard, Montserrat Roig de Puig, Wunmi Mosaku, Billie Higson, Lisa Faulkner, Vivienne Harvey, Kelly Clare, Simon Schatzberger, Rochelle Gomes da Cunha
weaver and kearns release UK 21.Jan.11
10/UK 1h15

edinburgh film fest
honeymooner There isn't much to this British drama, a low-key observational film touching on the fragility of relationships. But it's endearing simply because it's so raw and honest about things, with realistic characters and open-hearted situations.

On what should be his wedding day, Fran (Kearns) is in physical and emotional misery. His fiancee (Faulkner) has just dumped him, and now he has to spend his honeymoon on his own in North London. His friends (Coghill and Weaver) try to get him out of the house, but they're having their own relationship issues. There's a disastrous blind date and a thrash metal gig, but mostly the three guys sit and talk about their problems. Which kind of makes Fran feel better.

Nothing much happens in the film but, as the anecdotal structure follows Fran over the two weeks that would have been his honeymoon, the mopey tone becomes rather warm and involving. And it helps that the characters are beautifully played by the fresh-faced cast. These are complex people whose conversations are sometimes brutally truthful. And it's this candour that makes them likeable, because they're otherwise pretty whiny and stupid.

Essentially, this is a film about how most guys don't want commitment. Fran does ("I don't want to have fun, I want to be married!"), but the wannabe-manly Ben is straining against his demanding girlfriend (Haggard) and falling into bed with a young woman (Higson) he doesn't realise is only 17. Meanwhile, the airhead Jon is resisting pressure from his girlfriend to get married. As everything comes to a boil, it's a little hard to care what happens to these self-obsessed bores.

What makes the film watchable is the way we can see ourselves in them. Well, if we're able to look at ourselves critically, that is. Most of us can identify what it feels like to be unlucky in love, and we also know that luck perhaps has nothing to do with it. So even though the film is thin and a bit dull, there's a loose honesty here that touches a nerve. That said, it's so light and weightless that it probably would have worked better as a short.

15 themes, language
23.Jun.10 eiff
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The Insatiable Moon
dir Rosemary Riddell
scr Mike Riddell
prd Pip Piper, Mike Riddell, Rob Taylor
with Rawiri Paratene, Sara Wiseman, Ian Mune, Greg Johnson, Sarah Valentine, John Leigh, Jason Hoyte, Lee Tuson, Sophie Hakaraia, Mick Innes, Rob McCully, Don Linden
paratene and wiseman release NZ 10.Oct.10,
UK 4.Mar.11
10/New Zealand 1h40
The Insatiable Moon This openhearted drama from New Zealand can hardly help but move us as it strips away society's limitations to portray human connections at some very unusual levels. A touch of magical realism combines with some earthy grit to make it a little gem of a film.

In the Auckland suburb Ponsonby, a community of mentally disabled men lives in a rundown boarding house. One guy (Paratene) cheerfully goes around introducing himself as "Arthur, second son of God," and performing small miracles. But the patient house owner (Johnson) is in jeopardy as developers are trying to get their hands on the land. Then Arthur meets Margaret (Wiseman), whose marriage to Brian (Leigh) is struggling. Arthur calls her the Queen of Heaven and thinks she can help him save the home. And she falls for his charms.

The film has a gentle, slice-of-life approach, portraying this community in a way that's lively, sharp and very realistic. There's a real sense of both camaraderie and tension between these men and their neighbours. And while the tone is light and comical, it doesn't shy away from things that are dark or even scary. And some of the plot's turns are somewhat provocative.

Cynical viewers might dismiss the film's heartwarming spirituality, but even this is tempered with real-life awkwardness and a genuine sense that perhaps we don't understand everything in the world around us. This gentle openness makes Arthur's insights into the events around him feel both funny and engaging, and Paratene plays him as a smiley teddy bear. Wiseman is also effective as a woman struggling with her life, although her relationship with Arthur feels a little strained.

More problematic is the film's final act, which feels unfocussed as events seem to come along at random. But it's still extremely impressive to see how the filmmakers confront prejudice head-on, making each of the boarding house residents into a complex, intriguing and often very funny person. And the script also challenges our own preconceptions, most notably the way we fear what we don't understand and how different society would be if we tried to learn from others rather than push them away.

15 themes, language
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I Spit on Your Grave
dir Steven R Monroe
scr Stuart Morse
prd Lisa M Hansen, Paul Hertzberg
with Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Chad Lindberg, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, Tracey Walter, Mollie Milligan, Saxon Sharbino, Amber Dawn Landrum
release US 8.Oct.10,
UK 21.Jan.11
10/US 1h43

london frightfest
I Spit on Your Grave Remade from the notorious 1978 horror movie, this relentlessly violent revenge fantasy is almost unbearably grisly. Despite high production values and a real sense of emotional anguish, the thin veneer of female empowerment makes it neither palatable nor meaningful.

After renting an isolated cabin to write a novel, Jennifer (Butler) isn't as alone in her quiet idyll as she thinks. Three thuggish backwoods locals (Franzese, Branson and Eastman) and their simple-minded friend (Lindberg) have their eye on her. After a nasty confrontation, she seeks help from the sheriff (Howard), but he's just as bad, and she's subjected to a hideously vicious attack. Although left for dead, she survives the ordeal and returns to get revenge, stalking each of the men and inflicting brutal physical torment.

The film quietly sets up its menacing tone with a series of scenes in which our heroine is subtly freaked out by askance glances and strange woodland noises before delving into the full-on nightmare of her attack. In updating the story, the filmmakers have to come up with a reason why her mobile phone doesn't work; less contrived is the way they incorporate a video camera into the plot. And the nastiness at least manages to avoid the female exploitation angle.

But the violence is seriously disturbing, especially since much of it has a sexual overtone. These men represent a vile, despicable segment of society, and what they do is horrific to even think about. The film certainly doesn't have the guilty pleasure aspect of most horror/revenge movies: it's pure cruelty. In other words, this isn't the kind of thriller you watch for escapist catharsis. And it's impossible to justify Jennifer's elaborate, sickeningly sadistic vengeance.

If this film doesn't disturb you deeply, something's wrong. In this sense, perhaps the filmmakers have done their job, unsettling us long before the extended frenzy of revenge kicks in. The cast members all deliver performances that are thoroughly believable, giving us a glimpse of rural society that probably isn't that far off the mark. Although the events depicted in this film are the stuff of nightmares, and in the end it's hard to see the point of depicting them at all.

18 themes, language, very strong violence
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dir-scr Kris McManus
prd Brian Allen Levine, Kris McManus, Ben Richards
with Shane Sweeney, Tom Geoffrey, Alex Edwards, Celia Muir, Dean Jagger, Ben Richards, Chris Manns, Charley Boorman, James Privett, Kris McManus, Joe Bowers, Sydnee Howard
jagger and sweeney release UK 13.Jan.11
11/UK 1h24
travellers There's style and intensity in this nasty little British thriller, but a thinly developed script keeps it from generating much real suspense or meaning as the story gets increasingly brutal.

On a motorbike adventure, four city guys camp overnight in a field outside a small town, where they find a caravan seemingly abandoned when Irish travellers were chased away. But it's not empty. And a group of armed men turn up, chasing three of them (Sweeney, Geoffrey and Richards) into the woods while the fourth (Edwards) is tied up in the caravan with brother and sister travellers (Jagger and Muir). One by one, they capture or kill each other. This escalates into a series of increasingly grisly encounters, including a sadistic bare-knuckle boxing match.

Stiff dialog defeats the cast, so nothing is very convincing. And it doesn't help that filmmaker McManus barely sets up the characters; we know virtually nothing about them except the key facts the script feels we need to know, so it's not always clear who we should care about. When someone dies, it seems almost random, and as everyone's behaviour gets increasingly extreme, believability goes out the window.

At least McManus keeps things moving briskly, leaping over implausibilities and distracting us from corny interaction with menacing sounds and insinuating editing. Some scenes are actually rather intriguing, such as Sweeney's conversations with Muir's trashy blonde. But everything is undermined by clunky plotting, from a lame reason why no one has a mobile phone to the continual presence of guns just because the writers can't think of anything more inventive. And the boxing scene feels deeply gratuitous.

McManus is clearly trying to blur the moral boundaries here, shifting the perspective to confuse us about whether the city boys or the travellers are the real villains. He's also commenting on how prejudice can blind us to what's really going on. But this is somewhat undermined by the continual violence and death, even after a late revelation makes it all feel strongly tragic. But by the end, we're unsure if the film has any real point beyond that most men are vicious thugs at heart. Or maybe it's that men like making movies about vicious thugs.

15 themes, language, strong violence
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