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last update 26.Oct.11
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The Dish and the Spoon
dir Alison Bagnall
scr Alison Bagnall, Andrew Lewis
prd Alison Bagnall, Amy Seimetz
with Greta Gerwig, Olly Alexander, Eleonore Hendricks, Amy Seimetz, Adam Rothenberg, Susan Betts, John Bochnowski, Dan Seeley, Shirley Miller, Sam Calagione, HD Parsons, Kelvin Miller
alexander and gerwig release US Mar.11 sxsw,
UK Oct.11 lff
11/US 1h31

london film fest
The Dish and the Spoon With its deliberately quirky characters and meandering series of events, this mumblecore movie is enjoyably ramshackle, constantly catching us off guard with spiky humour or warm emotion. But it's also infuriatingly vague.

After discovering that her husband (Rothenberg) is having an affair, Rose (Gerwig) drives to the coast to binge on beer and donuts. There she meets an under-age English teen (Alexander) who attaches himself to her. And she's too busy being angry and bitter to notice. They have a series of small adventures, from cross-dressing to a deep-sea fishing trip, and quietly fall for each other. Then at an English country-dancing lesson, dressed in period costumes, Rose runs into the other woman (Hendricks).

Filmmaker Bagnall simply follows these offbeat characters into unusual locations and quirky encounters, such as playing hangman with lipstick on the side of a beer-brewing vat. She doesn't seem interested in filling in details, so the relationship between Rose and this bouncy-chatty boy is increasingly silly, as the boy simply starts introducing himself to Rose's friends as her boyfriend. When they finally relax around each other, there are some beautifully tender moments between them.

Much of the dialog has a fresh, improvised feel, although Bagnall can't resist injecting something nutty into every scene. So Rose and this unnamed boy feel more like indie movie characters than real people. Still, there's a theatrical quality that makes these people more than the sum of their parts. Rose's self-loathing and deep sadness are constantly present just outside the frame, while the boy's search for entertainment leads him to play any piano he walks past. Both actors invest intense emotion into their characters, often just below the surface waiting to erupt.

In the end, this feels more like a collection of workshopped scenes than a narrative feature. We never see anything but Rose's side of the story, which isn't actually a problem, except that it keeps us from properly understanding her hysterical rage. On the other hand, we intensely feel her emotional isolation and her willingness to have this pesky stranger around her. For a little while at least. But the bigger problem is that film has no discernible point.

15 themes, language
25.Oct.11 lff
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The Future
dir-scr Miranda July
prd Gina Kwon, Gerhard Meixner, Roman Paul
with Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky, Isabella Acres, Joe Putterlik, Kathleen Gati, Erinn K Williams, Oona Mekas, Samantha Milazzo, Tonita Castro, Angela Trimbur, Mary Passeri
july and linklater
release US 29.Jul.11,
UK 4.Nov.11
11/US Film4 1h26


london film fest
the future While this film is a bit too precious and offbeat, it also makes some striking observations on the nature of relationships and the fears we have about moving ahead into the unknown. And the engaging cast keeps us involved.

Sophie (July) teaches a children's dance class, while her boyfriend Jason (Linklater) answers tech-service calls. Adopting the cat Paw-paw, who's recovering from surgery, is the nest step in their five-year relationship. Although they're a bit taken aback to learn that he might survive for five years or more. By which time they'll be 40. With a month to go before Paw-paw's release from hospital, they must make the most of the time they have. So they ditch their jobs, disconnect their broadband and begin some unexpected outside relationships.

This is a film about that moment when we discover we'll never be quite as rich and successful as we thought we'd be, and that we no longer have unlimited time to do everything we want. Sophie and Jason treat this like the last month of their lives, exploring unexpected tangents. "I always thought I'd be smarter," he says. "I always thought I'd follow the news," she replies. Meanwhile, we hear Paw-paw's thoughts about all of this, voiced by July in annoying baby-speak.

The dialog is witty and a little surreal, packed with subtext about real issues while spinning out into hilarious flights of fantasy as Sophie and Jason contemplate the possibilities. As a director July maintains an intriguing visual sensibility, observing tiny details along the way. As an actress, she and Linklater are awkward and endearing, even after Sophie starts an affair with a single dad (Warshofsky) and Jason befriends an eccentric old man (Putterlik)

But July continually pushes the cute-quirky aspects of characters and situations, while indulging in some wacky magical realism. Not to mention the odd scenes featuring the cat. So startlingly real elements of life continually catch us off guard, including a look at the darker side of a relationship that has been easy up to now. Of course, the future is full of possibilities, and the uncertainty can be terrifying. But growing up is the only way to move forward with hope and courage.

15 themes, language
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Natural Selection
dir-scr Robbie Pickering
prd Brion Hambel, Paul Jensen
with Rachael Harris, Matt O'Leary, John Diehl, Jon Gries, Gayland Williams, Stephanie King, Roger Hewitt, Melinda DeKay, Mark Winslett, Vanessa Vander Pluym, Michael Hyland, Hallie Martin
o'leary and harris release UK Oct.11 lff,
US 16.Mar.12
11/US 1h30

london film fest
Natural Selection A skilful mixture of comedy and drama makes this the kind of film that keeps us off balance from start to finish. Like the central character, we are challenged by every twist and turn of the plot. Which also means that it's hugely involving.

After her husband Abe (Diehl) suffers a stroke while making a donation at a sperm bank, the dutiful Linda (Harris) sets off to find the biological son he could never have with her. But Raymond (O'Leary) isn't what she bargained for: he's a foul-mouthed, drug-using prison-escapee who only agrees to accompany her back to Houston because the cops are after him. But along the road, a strange relationship develops, as he starts to realise what she's doing for him, and she begins to see the world outside her restrictive religious community.

Writer-director Pickering certainly knows about these people and their culture, and he gives the film a startling honesty that continually catches us off guard. Not only does the film highlight the harm caused by groundless religious rules, but it also shows that truly Christian compassion is genuinely life-changing. And while grappling with these kinds of deeper issues, Pickering also manages to pack each scenes with deadpan humour and surprise twists.

At the centre, Harris delivers a terrific performance that's utterly transparent. Linda is an unforgettable character, a superb combination of comical quirks, endearing charm and just enough prickly self-confidence that we maintain hope that she will be able to plot a course through this increasingly testing situation. Her interaction with O'Leary is thoroughly engaging, especially the way he plays Raymond as such a hang-dog idiot, even in some fairly severe situations. And Gries is also enjoyable as Linda's pastor and brother-in-law, who rushes headlong to her rescue.

Striking photography and strong editing make the most of the film's evidently low budget, even if a couple of sequences are somewhat difficult to follow (such as a convenience-store encounter with a pair of redneck thugs). But it's the journey these characters are taking that's razor sharp - both internal and geographical - and watching them travel to places they never dreamed of is both entertaining and inspiring.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
22.Oct.11 lff
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US title: The Snowtown Murders
dir Justin Kurzel
scr Shaun Grant
prd Anna McLeish, Sarah Shaw
with Lucas Pittaway, Daniel Henshall, David Walker, Louise Harris, Anthony Groves, Craig Coyne, Richard Green, Bob Adriaens, Frank Cwiertniak, Brendan Rock, Keiran Schwerdt, Robert Deeble
pittaway and henshall release Aus 19.May.11,
UK 18.Nov.11, US 2.Mar.12
11/Australia 2h00


london film fest
snowtown Based on a nightmarish true story, this Australian drama starts in a squalid home and descends into pure horror. And by eerily underplaying everything while keeping us off-balance, the filmmakers make one of the most terrifyingly original movies of the year.

In a rough late-90s Adelaide neighbourhood, 16-year-old Jamie (Pittaway) lives with his mother Liz (Harris), three brothers and Liz's eerily charming new man John (Henshall). After Liz discovers that a paedophile lives across the street, John teaches Jamie how to express his anger, slowly earning his loyalty. Then Jamie begins to realise that John is actually killing people he despises, mostly because they're gay. And by the time his fears become founded, he's in too deep to escape from John's grip.

To recount one of Australia's most notorious serial killer cases from such an introspective perspective is deeply unnerving. Director Kurzel and writer Grant deliberately avoid filmmaking conventions, keeping us disoriented from start to finish, to echo Jamie's troubled mindset. Characters come and go, some are killed, but we don't always know which ones, and we're never sure how anyone is connected to Liz's family.

But then, these aren't sterling members of society: they're lower working-class, uneducated, usually inebriated and furious at the world. The filmmakers so vividly recreate this community, and the cast members give such naturalistic performances, that we want to flinch from the screen. Only Jamie ever commands our sympathy, partly because of the horrors we've seen him suffer at the hands of his neighbour and his older brother Troy (Groves), but also because we can see his innocence being so cruelly manipulated.

Which brings us to Henshall, who delivers a terrifying performance by never playing John as the monster that he is. There are only a few moments when we see into his pitch-black soul, such as a ghastly scene with his dog and an unspeakably brutal moment with Troy. This is the kind of villain who sends chills down your spine because he's sometimes also a caring stepdad. But maybe the film is saying that these kinds of headline-grabbing events are never as cut and dry as we'd like them to be.

18 themes, language, strong violence, drugs
18.Oct.11 lff
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