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last update 20.Jul.12
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Electrick Children
dir-scr Rebecca Thomas
prd Jessica Caldwell, Richard Neustadter
with Julia Garner, Liam Aiken, Rory Culkin, Bill Sage, Cynthia Watros, Billy Zane, John Patrick Amedori, Rachel Pirard, Cassidy Gard, Paola Baldion, Guy Camilleri, Melissa Nearman
garner and watros release US Mar.12 sxsw,
UK 13.Jul.12
12/US 1h35

Electrick Children Slow and introspective, this involving drama wobbles slightly as its plot takes a few contrived turns. But the performances are excellent, and the filmmaking is mesmerising. And it's exploring some themes that are rarely addressed so boldly on-screen.

Raised in an cloistered religious community in Utah, Rachel (Garner) has just turned 15 and believes that she's pregnant because she listened to some illicit pop music. Her parents (Watros and Zane) think otherwise, blaming her brother Will (Aiken) for this "immaculate" conception. But instead of face an arranged marriage to a stranger, Rachel runs off with Will to Las Vegas. There they meet Clyde (Culkin), a young rocker who challenges everything they've been taught and changes the way they see the world.

The running gag is that Rachel is convinced that she's going to have a virgin birth, just like Mary. Which of course no one believes for a second. She's looking for the baby's "father", the man who sang the song on the tape (a karaoke rendition of Blondie's Hanging on the Telephone), and along the way she's taken in by the charms of Clyde's rocker buddy (Amedori). It takes a bit longer for her to realise that it's Clyde who really cares for her.

Meanwhile, Will is on a journey of his own, confronting his deeply held beliefs with the reality of the big bad world. Thomas writes and directs this with real sensitivity, keeping the camera up close and intimate to allow Garner and Aiken to create darkly introspective characters. Their joint and separate odysseys are warmly involving, as are subtle performances by Culkin, Watros and Zane, plus Sage as a man in a red Mustang, a recurring theme in Rachel's mythology.

There are moments when we worry for the naive Rachel and Will, and yet they continually surprise us with their inner strength and honest curiosity. So it's a bit frustrating that Thomas sends the plot down a few over-written roads, as coincidences and contrivances unravel the film's organic moodiness. And as everything builds to a rather overworked climax, we wish Thomas would have had the confidence to maintain the quietly unnerving tone from the film's earlier scenes right to the end.

15 themes, language
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Going Down in La-La Land
dir-scr-prd Casper Andreas
with Matthew Ludwinski, Allison Lane, Michael Medico, Casper Andreas, John Schile, Jesse Archer, Brent Bailey, Scott DeFalco, Judy Tenuta, Alec Mapa, Bruce Vilanch, Perez Hilton
ludwinski and medico release US 20.Apr.12,
UK 23.Jul.12
11/US Embrem 1h44

iris prize fest
Going Down in La-La Land A lively exploration of the harsh realities of Hollywood, this film perhaps tries to include too many plot elements from Andy Zeffer's source novel. But everything is enjoyably well-played, with engaging characters and resonant themes.

Fresh-faced Adam (Ludwinski) moves to Los Angeles to live with pal Candy (Lane), and both struggle to find work as actors. While Candy starts an online role-playing business, Adam gets a job at a porn production company, where his new boyfriend, cameraman Nick (Andreas), convinces him to pose for some explicit photos, and his boss (Schile) talks him into taking some high-profile escorting jobs. But Nick's drug use jeopardises their relationship just as Adam falls for TV star client John (Medico), who pretends to be straight to protect his career.

At the centre, Ludwinski gives a likeable performance as a guy who's open to whatever life throws at him. And his chemistry with the superb Lane is fantastic. Thankfully filmmaker Andreas never moralises about sex; even when Adam and Candy get involved in the sex trade we never doubt that they're good people. By contrast, the cautionary journey Andreas' character takes isn't as complex, although it gives Andreas the chance to play against type.

Along the way, there are constant knowing jabs at show business, from Adam's hilariously appalling porn-set responsibilities to the high-profile Hollywood star who believes he must remain closeted. Plus of course the way Adam and Candy's dreams of stardom are so badly derailed. Vivid side characters include the wacky Tenuta as John's tetchy beard and a variety of losers who hook up with Candy. This gives the film a random series of comedy-gold moments that keep us laughing, so when the drama turns dark and emotional, it has a real kick.

Indeed, Andreas maintains a serious edge to the snappy, entertaining story. The ensemble-style plot sometimes meanders, and when the script deals with Nick's drug problems it has a tendency to preach. But Ludwinski and Medico play their romance with a lovely mix of passion and underlying stress: John is terrified of coming out, while Adam struggles with being the secret lover. And as both find their way, the comedy and drama come together seamlessly.

15 themes, language, sexuality
6.Oct.11 iris
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The Hunter
dir Daniel Nettheim
scr Alice Addison
prd Vincent Sheehan
with Willem Dafoe, Frances O'Connor, Sam Neill, Morgana Davies, Finn Woodlock, Jacek Koman, Callan Mulvey, John Brumpton, Dan Wyllie, Sullivan Stapleton, Jamie Timony, Dan Spielman
dafoe and neill
release Aus 6.Oct.11,
US 6.Apr.12, UK 6.Jul.12
11/Australia 1h42

The Hunter Shot in the breathtaking wilds of Tasmania, this evocative dramatic thriller puts us into the head of a troubled man forced to confront uncomfortable truths about himself and the work he does. It's a riveting, unsettling, involving film made with skill and artistry.

Mercenary hunter Martin (Dafoe) is a loner hired by a mysterious client (Koman) to track down the last remaining Tasmanian tiger, a breed thought to be extinct. Shunned as a "greenie", he's given a room in a country home where Lucy (O'Connor) lives in isolation with her two kids (Davies and Woodlock), waiting for the return of her missing zoologist husband. With Jack (Neill) as a guide, Martin sets out to find the elusive tiger, but his efforts to avoid bonding with the family are much trickier.

The film has a moody, menacing tone that draws us in from the start. Dafoe plays Martin as a haunted man who seems spooked by Lucy's lively, curious children. He also bristles at the fact that he needs Jack to get him started, and ditches him early to continue on his own. Clearly this experience is going to bring up something he's trying desperately to keep buried inside. And Neill and O'Connor are equally raw and earthy as they quietly pick away at his defences.

What makes the film even more involving is Robert Humphreys' textured wide-screen photography, which gives Tasmania itself a lead role in the drama. This unmapped wilderness looks like a primordial forest. The expansive landscapes are spectacular, and we wouldn't be surprised if a dinosaur leapt out from a clump of trees. Indeed, most of the creatures Martin encounters are utterly alien. And his other discoveries are truly haunting.

There isn't much dialog in the film, since much of the drama takes place beneath the surface. Through his interaction with the family, Martin seems to find a semblance of redemption for his immoral life, and through what happens in the forest he confronts the sins of colonists whose actions have led to extinction for so many species. But director Nettheim and writer Addison hold these big themes lightly, never overstating them, which makes the film much more forceful in its final kick.

15 themes, language, violence
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Strawberry Fields
dir Frances Lea
scr Frances Lea, Judith Johnson
prd Liam Beatty, Lucie Wenigerova
with Anna Madeley, Christine Bottomley, Emun Elliott, Jonathan Bonnici, Florence Bell, Vanessa Babirye, Philip Martin Brown, Susan Parks, Harry Sims
elliott and madeley release UK 6.Jul.12
12/UK BBC 1h24
Strawberry Fields Distraught drama and over-egged performances give this film a self-indulgent tone. Aside from the first-rate cinematography and editing, it's so disappointingly arch that we struggle to believe anything, even as it touches on important themes.

Gillian (Madeley) is running away from home when she gets the idea to work picking strawberries, pretending to be "Tammy" from Scarborough. Her new boss is Kev (Elliott), a lusty man with a mysterious past who takes an interest in her. Then her sister Emily (Bottomley) storms onto the farm. Clearly, the deeply unstable Emily has been controlling Gillian's life for a long time, and now that their mother has died, Gillian wants to do her own thing. But can she escape Emily's manipulative grasp?

The improvised approach allows the cast to create characters within a loose narrative. Filmmaker Lea is telling the story in a freeform style, straying from the demands of movie structure. Sometimes this is interesting because it confounds our expectations and catches us off guard with moments of warmth and darkly unsettling drama. And it also lets the film drift occasionally toward a horror film, with nasty encounters that flare up seemingly out of nowhere.

The problem is that nothing rings true to life. Every reaction is almost insanely exaggerated, making us wonder early on if these sisters are clinically schizophrenic. The only realistic person is Kev, played with darkly alluring charm by Elliott, but the character is betrayed by the script, which hangs him out to dry before a half-hearted epilogue. In fact, between him and his coworker Fabio (Bonnici), who has an unnatural loyalty to Emily, the film feels like it was written by someone who hates men.

Aside from wallowing in each character's violent tendencies, Lea lets her cast overplay every scene. Madeley and Bottomley are gifted actors, but they're coaxed to play Gillian and Emily in far-too-obvious ways, with constant hints at mental instability, goofy mannerisms and sudden personality changes. This is the kind of thing that alienates viewers from small, offbeat movies. And while Lea touches on important issues such as family pressures, romantic manipulation and the deep yearning for independence, she shouts everything far too loudly for it to have any impact.

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