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last update 1.Feb.12
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Acts of Godfrey
dir-scr Johnny Daukes
prd Tony Schlesinger
with Simon Callow, Iain Robertson, Harry Enfield, Myfanwy Waring, Celia Imrie, Jay Simpson, Ian Burfield, Doon Mackichan, Michael Wildman, Shobu Kapoor, Demetri Goritsas, Max Digby
robertson release UK 27.Jan.12
12/UK 1h21
Acts of Godfrey With dialog that's all spoken in rhyming verse, this film has Seuss-meets-Shakespeare quality that holds our attention, even though not much is happening of any real interest. At least the sparky collection of characters helps overcome the film's corny tone.

Unlucky in life, Vic (Robertson) is sent on a self-help weekend by his boss. There, the attendees' lives get increasingly intertwined, manipulated by the unseen god-like narrator Godfrey (Callow). Bombshells (Waring and Mackichan) target Vic and boy-band manager Jamie (Wildman), while two goons (Simpson and Burfield) supply a super-Viagra called Poke, and a conman (Enfield) uses the meek Gita (Kapoor) to prey on widows' fortunes. And as they get to know each other, each begins to discover that their inter-connections go much deeper.

In addition to the rhythmic dialog, the film is shot and edited with a lot of witty visual style, often too much of it. After the long opening section, which introduces each of the characters, the plot becomes increasingly knotted, Midsummer Night's Dream-style. It's tricky to keep up with the links between the characters, let alone engage with Vic's odyssey. And it doesn't take long before the artifice of it all wears us out, as writer-director Daukes stirs comedy, romance, intrigue, suspense and magical surrealism into the mix.

Even so, each actor has moments that take us aback, undercutting the broadly comical tone with some edgy insight. Robertson is an intriguing mess at the centre of the storm, although Daukes is too hyperactive to maintain his focus on Vic's point of view. Meanwhile everyone else feels much more cartoonish, and Callow camply struts through each scene making wry observations and sometimes posing as a barman or chef to interact with the mere mortals.

But the film is such a riot of references that we're never quite sure what the point is. Constant images of the church sit oddly with the tarot card chapter titles, while the general criminality of most characters makes the concept of the self-help seminar rather meaningless. But the story leaps along with plenty of energy, and finds a few moments of perky interaction along the way. And it manages to come together with several clever twists in the end.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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dir Josh Trank
scr Max Landis
prd John Davis, Adam Schroeder
with Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, Anna Wood, Rudi Malcolm, Luke Tyler, Crystal-Donna Roberts, Adrian Collins, Grant Powell
dehaan, jordan and russell
release UK 1.Feb.12,
US 3.Feb.12
12/US Fox 1h23

32nd Shadows Awards

Chronicle Taking the found-footage thriller to a new level, this film throws real-life teens into an extraordinary story while deepening the characters and providing exhilarating action. Even Cloverfield seems unimaginative by comparison.

Andrew (DeHaan) is a nerdy teen videotaping his life in an attempt to liven it up. His hip cousin Matt (Russell) thinks he's nuts, but goes along with it, inviting him to a student rave. There they team up with the coolest guy on campus, Steve (Jordan), to explore a strange hole in the ground. When they emerge, they have telekinetic powers that grow stronger the more they use them. But they quickly discover the scope for danger, creating a few rules that Andrew privately bristles against.

While this isn't technically a found-footage movie, all of the footage is shot through cameras that are in the scenes with the actors, including a sexy video-blogger (Hinshaw) who catches Matt's eye, random phone-cameras and CCTV. But it's the story that holds our attention, with fast-paced progression as the boys' powers get more intense and the stakes rise to rather terrifying levels. And since it's all captured imagery, it's played off-the-cuff by a terrific young cast that remains rooted in a realistically teenage response what happens.

Each boy's story is layered with their everyday lives. Most involving is the way Andrew is horribly bullied at school, in the streets, and by his brutal father (Kelly), while his mother (Petersen) is gravely ill. DeHaan plays these scenes so well that the Carrie-esque carnage that follows hits us right between he eyes. Meanwhile, Russell and Jordan are superb as handsome charmers who usually get what they want, but find their new omnipotence overwhelming. Watching these three zoom through the clouds is thrilling because their buoyant camaraderie is so fragile.

Through all of this, Trank's direction is subtle and unfussy, never dwelling on the special effects, which makes them surprising and impressive. And Landis' script is a bundle of telling throwaway moments that linger in the mind and make us think about how having super-powers would augment our strengths and weaknesses alike. This moral complexity that makes the film a real gem, and far more provocative than Spider-man's exploration of how power requires responsibility.

12 themes, language, violence
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dir-scr Paris Leonti
prd John Adams, Luc Chaudhary, Michael Cowan
with Robert Fucilla, Kirsty Mitchell, Vas Blackwood, Rob James-Collier, Billy Zane, Geoff Bell, Antony Byrne, Michael Nardone, Danny Sapani, Robert Boulter, Stewart Scudamore, Nicholas Sidi
fucilla release UK 27.Jan.12
11/UK 1h37
Mercenaries Sadly misguided from the start, this violent war-zone adventure suffers from both a very low budget and a script that seems to have been written by someone who has never been outside Great Britain. In fact, it looks like the crew never ventured across the Channel either.

Andy (Fucilla) is a mercenary hired by a tough American colonel (Zane) to infiltrate the compound of Olodan (Byrne), a murderous Serb who has re-ignited his ethnic cleansing campaign by kidnapping the American ambassador (Sapani) and his assistant Beatrice (Mitchell). With his pals Zac, Callum and Lucas (Blackwood, James-Collier and Boulter), Andy charges into the woods to rescue the hostages and capture the baddie, operating outside the protection of US forces. Of course, nothing goes as planned.

While the plot seems just a bit desperate, we would probably go along with it if the film were more believable. But the whole movie looks like it was shot at Whipsnade Zoo rather than the wilds of Bosnia. And this gives the movie a sense of artificiality that it never recovers from. It also doesn't help that the actors are stuck in painfully shallow roles that don't allow them any space to develop either camaraderie or personalities. And poor James-Collier, a decent enough actor (of Downton Abbey fame), is forced to use the most ridiculous Southern American accent. Although he abandons the pretence in the end.

Like most action movies, this is made up of a series of set-pieces involving either a stealthy attack by the good guys or a sneaky assault from the villains. There are no shades of grey here, and no attempt to even remotely explain why this man has decided to randomly start murdering everyone in sight decades after the war ended. Even the Americans' motives remain rather shaky, insisting on capturing Olodan and bringing him to justice even if all of their mercenaries are killed in the process.

At least we know why our heroes are here: they're getting paid. Which also explains why these actors appear in this film, although not why it isn't going straight to DVD where it belongs. There are some terrific laughs along the way. Sadly, none of them is intentional.

15 themes, language, strong violence
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The Woman in the Fifth
dir-scr Pawel Pawlikowski
prd Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta
with Ethan Hawke, Kristin Scott Thomas, Joanna Kulig, Samir Guesmi, Delphine Chuillot, Julie Papillon, Geoffrey Carey, Mamadou Minte, Mohamed Aroussi, Jean-Louis Cassarino, Judith Burnett, Marcela Iacub
alexander and gerwig release Fr 16.Nov.11,
UK 17.Feb.12
11/France Haut et Court 1h23

The Woman in the Fifth This intriguing experiment in cinematic disorientation is so well-made that it can't help but pull us into its perplexing narrative. It's a little too vague to be satisfying, but it's thoroughly haunting.

One-time novelist Tom (Hawke) travels from America to Paris to reconnect with his ex-wife (Chuillot) and his 6-year-old daughter (Papillon), but is immediately confronted with a restraining order. He's also robbed of his luggage and left in a cafe on the edge of town, where the waitress (Kulig) and owner (Guesmi) offer him a room and a job as a night watchman. Then he meets the alluring Margit (Scott Thomas) at a literary party, and she begins to take his mind off his troubles.

Filmmaker Pawlikowski almost subliminally shifts this film from an open-hearted drama into a kind of low-key thriller as Tom begins to descend into something that might be madness or possibly something supernatural. It doesn't really matter what's really happening here, because we're seeing everything from Tom's rather unreliable perspective. And every element of the film conspires cleverly to put us in his shoes.

Hawke gives the role the full force of his boyish charm. We can't help but like him even though we know there are dark shadows inside him. His awkward encounters with another tenant (Minte) at the cafe are genuinely terrifying, while his clandestine observation of his daughter's activities starts to become rather unsettling the more we realise that Tom might not be as trustworthy as we thought. Meanwhile, Scott Thomas gives a gleefully slinky performance as the seductress who might be luring Tom into something rather grim.

Pawlikowski assembles this in short, sharp scenes that abruptly cut into each other even as they're constantly interrupted by unnerving noises. Tom's work as a night watchman is frightening because he doesn't have a clue who he's working for. And his encounters with both the waitress and Margit bristle with underlying tension. So as it continues, we begin to understand that this story could go almost anywhere, and also that the filmmakers will probably leave the real dot-connecting to our imaginations. But when they've provoked us as much as Pawlikowski does, that's not a bad thing at all.

15 themes, language, sexuality, some violence
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall