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last update 31.Mar.12
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dir-scr Thom Fitzgerald
prd Thom Fitzgerald, Doug Pettigrew
with Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker, Ryan Doucette, Kristin Booth, Michael McPhee, Marlane O'Brien, Randy Boliver, Mary-Colin Chisholm, Stephen Arnold, Jeremy Akerman, Kevin Kincaid, John Dunsworth
alexander and gerwig release Can Sep.11 eiff,
UK Mar.12 llgff
11/Canada 1h33

Opening film:
london L&G film fest
Cloudburst A particularly colourful performance from Dukakis makes this film unmissable, even if the story wobbles in the final act. But along the way, the character-based comedy and drama are thoroughly engaging, even as they comment on a hugely important issue.

In rural Maine, gruff-but-lovable Stella (Dukakis) and dryly witty Dot (Fricker) have lived together for 31 years, during which time Dot has gone blind. After a minor accident, Dot's granddaughter Molly (Booth) decides that Dot should be in a nursing home, and literally kidnaps her from Stella. But Stella springs Dot from the home and they head to Canada to get married so they can decide their own future. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker, Prentice (Doucette), who has a profound effect on them. And vice versa.

Dukakis storms through this film as if the role was written for her (it was); Stella is a force of nature you really don't want to mess with. She has no off-switch on her foul mouth, and simply lives her life without apology. So this situation is driving her nuts. Fricker faces this with a softness that is never weak; Dot is a tough woman too, she's just more vulnerable. The chemistry between them is wonderfully authentic and never remotely sentimental.

As they embark on their comical road trip, the film has a freewheeling, engaging Thelma and Louise tone to it. So when Prentice enters the story, there's a strong sense that a gear is shifting. Doucette is terrific as an effortlessly physical young man who's nice but rather dim, and he understands Stella and Dot's bond in ways Molly never can. They drive him to his parents house, at which point filmmaker Fitzgerald indulges in a bit of silly slapstick before diving more fully into the bigger issues at hand.

From there, the final act completes the story's transition from jagged character-based comedy to a more plot-driven drama. As the Nova Scotia landscape becomes more picturesque, the situations become more pointed, with moments of amusing goofiness alongside the rather increasingly heavy emotion. Fortunately, the central trio remain watchable, and Fitzgerald constantly finds new wrinkles in their inter-relationships, right to a final shot that brings everything full-circle.

15 themes, strong language, nudity
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Gun Hill Road
dir-scr Rashaad Ernesto Green
prd Ron Simons, Michelle-Anne M Small
with Esai Morales, Judy Reyes, Harmony Santana, Vincent Laresca, Robin de Jesus, Miriam Colon, Franky G, Felix Solis, Flaco Navaja, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Tyrone Brown, Robert Prescott
santana and morales
release US 5.Aug.11,
UK Mar.12 llgff
11/US 1h27

london L&G film fest
Gun Hill Road For a story set in the Hispanic subculture, this film takes on some rather enormous themes, contrasting intolerant machismo with a real-life situation that would test anyone's mettle. While the plot isn't particularly original, it's played with real power.

After three years in prison, Enrique (Morales) returns home to the Bronx, where his buddies still hang out on the street corner. But things have changed at home. His wife Angela (Reyes) is terrified to tell him that their teen son Michael (Santana) is a transexual who prefers to be called Vanessa. Enrique notices that something isn't right, from Michael's avoidance of sports to Angela's emotional connection to another man. The question is whether Enrique can stay out of trouble and figure out how to be the husband and father he needs to be.

Filmmaker Green clearly takes this subject matter seriously, and the passion he invests in the film makes it involving. It helps that the performances are understated and raw, giving the characters a strikingly realistic edge. Santana is especially remarkable in a brave, complex role: Vanessa is a typical teen who loves life, has a lively group of friends and struggles in her relationship with a father who has never been around and now can't cope with who she is.

Meanwhile, Morales plays the narrow-minded hothead at full speed, cruelly refusing to accept his son because of what he thinks it will say about himself. His inability to even try to understand how his son feels is horrific, and very nicely played. But this isn't a new topic for cinema, as his harshness helps drive Vanessa into the arms of an older guy (Brown), a subplot that feels more inventively urgent and observant than Enrique's journey.

What makes this film worth seeing is the natural quality of the acting. Even the smaller side characters come to life with layers of unexpected complexity. So if the series of events feels like a film we've seen before, it's also the kind of story that plays out all too regularly all over the world. So it's important to say it again. And performances this open-handed and heart-wrenching help make it deeply personal as well.

15 themes, language, violence, sexualit
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StreetDance 2
dir Max & Kania
scr Jane English
prd Allan Niblo, James Richardson
with Falk Hentschel, Sofia Boutella, George Sampson, Tom Conti, Stephanie Nguyen, Samuel Revell, Niek Traa, Elisabetta Di Carlo, Akai Osei-Mansfield, Ali Ramdani, Ndedi Ma-Sellu, Delphine Nguyen
sampson and hentschel release UK 30.Mar.12
12/UK Vertigo 1h25

StreetDance (2010)
StreetDance 2 The filmmakers haven't bothered coming up with either a plot or title for this sequel, but they know that Part 1's success was its lively mix of dance and 3D. This time they're mashing-up street with salsa, not ballet. So at least this one's a bit zestier.

Ash (Hentschel) is a cocky American in London, recovering from humiliation at the hands of street-dance crew Invincible. Then he runs into fast-talking Eddie (Sampson), who offers to help him assemble an even better crew, hand-picking dancers from all over Europe for the final showdown in Paris. With six weeks to rehearse, Eddie then introduces Ash to Latina hottie Eva (Boutella), and they hatch a plan to fuse street edge with salsa passion and knock Invincible off its perch.

Of course, the plot follows the expected beats, including dissension in the ranks, a tetchy romance between Ash and Eva, a protective uncle (Conti) and a last-minute plot point that threatens to unravel everything right before the big competition. All of this is conveyed through genuinely terrible dialog that defeats the inexperienced actors. Only Conti manages to chomp on it gleefully (while also adds a silly French accent).

Fortunately, directors Max Giwa and Dania Pasquini know that the script is mere framework for them to indulge whizzy dance numbers. So they sideline the dialog and get everyone moving as often as possible. The Latin nightclub scenes sizzle with sexuality, while the street-dance battles bristle with attitude. Put them together, and the finale can't help but get us smiling and tapping our feet, even if it feels like forever until we get there.

Hentschel gives the film an unusual centre, as his self-absorbed character isn't very likeable. Beneath his bravado, Ash is actually terrified of failure, which is a bit more depth than we usually get in a formulaic dance-off movie. And his scenes with Boutella are genuinely spicy, even as we realise that the family-friendly tone of the film means things won't actually get steamy. Around them are a gang of hilarious characters we'd really like to see more of. So let's hope a third film is in the works with a new plot and a real title this time, please.

PG themes, some language
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Stud Life
dir-scr Campbell X
prd Lulu Belliveau, Nadya Kassam, Stella Nwimo
with T'Nia Miller, Kyle Treslove, Robyn Kerr, Simon Savory, Dona Croll, Naechane Romeo, Rez Kempton, Manfredi Gianetti, Victor Akintunde, Christos Liberos, Dean Atta, Vineeta Rishi
treslove and miller release UK Mar.12 llgff
12/UK 1h25

london L&G film fest
Stud Life Most films set in East London are gritty, edgy dramas, so it's refreshing to see a comedy centred on people who vividly demonstrate the city's diversit. And while the plot sticks to a rom-com structure, there are surprises along the way.

JJ (Miller) is a wedding photographer whose best pal Seb (Treslove) is her assistant. Both are unlucky in love: JJ's a "stud", a masculine lesbian looking for a girly woman; Seb is gay and doesn't know what he wants, but it's not the louche dealer Smack Jack (Savory) who has a crush on him. Then JJ meets the gorgeous Elle (Kerr), who seems to have a few too many secrets. And the tension between them extends to JJ's friendship with Seb. Everyone's will need to adjust the ways they treat each other.

Writer-director X keeps the tone light without resorting to obvious gags. The comedy comes from situations, sight gags and random bits of nuttiness along the way. This allows her to maintain a strikingly realistic tone even when the plot shifts into wackiness or melodrama. There's definitely a sense that these people are drama queens, demanding and stuck in their ways, and that something's got to give.

This aspect makes some of them difficult to like. JJ sometimes comes across as a child with naive rules about everything, while Elle is far too pushy. So their fast-paced romance is rather inexplicable. We understand why they might be attracted to each other, but not why they'd fall in love. That said, Miller and Kerr add honesty that resonates especially in the darkly dramatic moments. By contrast, Treslove gives a nicely offhanded performance as the relaxed but spiky Seb.

All of this helps to make up for the film's obvious micro-budget. The direction sometimes feels rushed and a bit timid, but the editing is snappy and it's boosted by a raucous song score. Best of all is the way the film allows people from various racial backgrounds and the wide spectrum of sexuality mix together naturally on screen. Even as X nods to political issues and hate crimes along the way, her film is a wonderful expression of hope for a more open, joyous society.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
30.Mar.12 llgff
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