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last update 15.Nov.13
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Interior. Leather Bar.
dir James Franco, Travis Mathews
scr Travis Mathews
prd James Franco, Michael Lannan, Travis Mathews, Iris Torres
with Val Lauren, James Franco, Travis Mathews, Christian Patrick, Brenden Gregory, Bradley Roberge, Collin Chavez, AJ Goodrich, Jake Robbins, Joel Michaely, Keith Wilson, Adrian Pena
franco and lauren release US Jan.13 sff,
UK 9.Dec.13
13/US 1h00

london l&g film fest
Interior. Leather Bar. A fascinating exploration of artistic expression on a range of levels, this documentary is just as provocative for its cast as it is for the viewer. It's a clever, provocative experiment.

William Friedkin received death threats while making Cruising in 1980, and cut 40 minutes from the film to get an R rating. Franco and Matthews are trying to re-imagine this lost footage. At a Beverley Hills hotel, Franco hires his old friend Lauren to play Al Pacino's character Steve, a New York cop working undercover in a gay bar. The day of the shoot comes, and both gay and straight actors are nervous and excited, asked to improvise their roles, fully understanding that what they're doing has a potential to stir up audiences.

Actors audition by cruising the camera, talking about why they want to do this, mainly to put themselves into an uncomfortable, unfamiliar situation, especially working on a project that's out of the ordinary. The film flicks back and forth between making-of style scenes and the actual shot and edited footage of men in a cruising bar, with sweat and steam, furtive eye contact and masculine physicality. But it's all about the eyes.

There's serious intensity as the time for shooting rolls around, and the actors talk nervously, sharing their apprehensions. There's also a sense of tension-easing humour as they get into the fetish gear and tease each other about how far they'd be willing to go for a scene. The best scenes are the intense discussions backstage, exploring much bigger issues such as the struggle for equal marriage rights, which is normalising a previously marginalised lifestyle. So now gay men will be expected to get married just like everyone else, eliminating the "queerness" of the subculture.

Franco's goal is to shake himself up as an artist, saying "I don't like the fact that I have been brought up to think in a certain way. We can put people killing each other in movies, but we can't put realistic sex." Everybody watches porn, but no one will talk about sex. And where is the line between a character-based sex scene and porn? Or is the idea of gay sex a lot bigger than it actually is when you see it?

18 themes, language, strong sexuality
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dir-scr-prd Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel
with Brian Jannelle, Adrian Guillette, Christopher Swampstead, Arthur Smith, Clyde Lee, Declan Conneely, Paul Benner, Johnny Gatcombe, Robbie Segnitz, Robert Blethen, Thomas D Simpson
release US 1.Mar.13,
UK 29.Nov.13
12/France 1h27

edinburgh film fest
Leviathan It's unclear what this film is. Technically it must be a documentary, as it's capturing scenes of real life at sea. But there is no explanation at all, and much of the imagery is so abstract that we have no idea what we're seeing. So maybe it's better described as moving art: both beautiful and pretentious.

More of a sensory experience than a chance to understand the commercial fishing industry, the film is a collection of scenes shot on board a trawler as nets are reeled in and the catch is sorted and prepared for market. Much of this takes place at night, with long takes using close-up angles that catch light and sound in extremely artful ways. Burly fishermen talk in the background as they work, then shower and take a break before heading back out onto the deck for another round. All while seagulls prowl around them.

Shot with 11 cameras that were passed back and forth between the filmmakers, the fisherman and even the seagulls, the imagery is so up close and personal that it's sometimes hard to watch: fish are gutted and beheaded, with leftover bits sliding around on the blood-soaked deck before being washed overboard. But there are also scenes of real beauty, juxtaposing the creaky ship with the swelling sea, or reflecting light off the swarming birds in the night sky.

If there was even the smallest sense of a narrative, this film would hold our attention. But most shots go on so long that they numb us completely, especially the more mundane images like a fisherman staring blankly at a television for what feels like about 20 minutes. There's no sense of who these guys are. We figure out which man is the captain, but that's about it. And in the credits they're billed equally alongside the fish and birds.

Yes, this is full-on experimental filmmaking, more like an epic visual poem than a movie. The filmmakers never tell us that this takes place off the Massachusetts coast over the course of a week-long expedition. Still, it has a certain hallucinogenic beauty, pushing us to the limits of patience as we struggle to make sense of it. Fans of abstract art and pretentious cinema will love it. Everyone else will probably take a nap.

12 themes, language, grisliness
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Rough Cut
dir Jamie Shovlin
scr Mike Harte
prd Bren O'Callaghan, Sarah Perks
with Mike Harte, Jamie Shovlin, Euan Rodger, Kev Thornton, Agnes Aspen, Grace Duval Johnston, John Grey, Chris Paul Daniels, Bren O'Callaghan, Steve Cawood, Di Lucille Campbell, Karla von Denkoff
Rough Cut release UK 6.Dec.13
13/UK Cornerhouse 1h26
Hiker Meat This double-whammy documentary is clever enough to hold our interest, especially as it provides some insight into the artistry required even to make the silliest B-movie. But its fake movie-within-a-movie premise is a bit too cerebral to catch our imagination, and the details are rather dry.

In 2005, Harte wrote a screenplay for a 1980s-style horror movie called Hiker Meat (an anagram of his name), made up entirely of cliched scenes from the genre. He worked with Shovlin to paste the film together using scenes from real horror movies. And now they've decided to remake a movie that never really existed to begin with, shooting the opening and closing sequences as well as a vintage 1980s trailer. But as they travel to the Lake District to recreate East Coast America, the production proves more challenging than they expected.

The film combines behind-the-scenes documentary footage with an extensive range of clips from old horror movies, plus multiple angles on the scenes they're shooting to give us backstage views of how they achieve each shot along with the final graded, scored and sound-mixed version. Often this involves showing sequences using split screens, which is often very cool. Or a bit dizzying when there are nine images to watch.

We also get to know the crew, including musician Rodger, whose score adds considerable atmosphere both to Hiker Meat and this documentary, and special effects expert Thornton, whose elaborately constructed worm-creature provides Hiker Meat with its climactic nastiness. We also meet the lead actress (Aspen) as well as the woman (Johnston) who provides her voice. And it's fascinating to see such a wide range of experts needed even for a small film like this, let alone a mid-sized horror movie.

It's just a shame this documentary isn't more fun. There are some terrific sequences, mainly in the extensive work that goes into recreating standard horror set-pieces. And the crew camaraderie is fun to watch when they're goofing around together or worrying about whether an explosion will work or not. But the doc is assembled in a workman-like way without much pacing or energy, which leaves us watching at a safe distance when we really want to be plunged into the nastiness. In other words, we'd rather be watching Hiker Meat itself.

15 themes, language, violence
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This Ain’t California
dir Marten Persiel
scr Marten Persiel, Ira Wedel
prd Michael Schoebel, Ronald Vietz
with Kai Hillebrand, David Nathan, Tina Bartel, Anneke Schwabe, Dirk Maretzki, Patrick Steffens, Rene Falk Tomasius, Christian Rothenhagen, Dominique Mielke, Thorsten Schubert, Titus Dittman, John Haak
This Ain't California
release Ger 16.Aug.12,
US 12.Apr.13, UK 6.Dec.13
12/Germany 1h36

This Ain't California You can't watch this film as a pure documentary because director Persiel has fictionalised characters and events to tell a fable-style story about an iconic time. But the larger story is true, with personal recollections about using skateboarding as a form of rebellion in Eastern Germany. It's also strikingly shot and edited, combining old and new footage, plus beautifully animated sequences.

The fictional character at the centre is Denis (Jullebrand), better known as Panik, a skater kid who grew up in a grim Soviet estate and escaped from his domineering single father to move to Berlin with his pals Dirk and Nico. In Alexanderplatz, they honed their skills with break-dancers and street performers, subverting the state's control. So the government co-opted skatboarding as an official sport, which backfired when they allowed skaters to travel to the West and see what was really going on.

The story is framed as friends return to their old stomping ground after Panik's funeral in 2011 (he died while on military service in Afghanistan). As they reminisce, we see a kaleidoscopic flurry of home movies, snapshots and newsreel clips showing energetic teens on skateboards. Sometimes this starts feeling repetitive, as Persiel indulges in yet another party montage or a random memory that doesn't really fit in.

But Panik's larger-than-life charisma bursts from every clip. And Persiel cleverly blends that exuberant past with present-day nostalgia, making the film feel like a beautiful lament for youthful rebellion. Because everyone has to grow up, get a job, have a family and probably do something uncharacteristic like join the army in an attempt to recapture that childhood camaraderie.

So even if the film is essentially fiction, it's about something bigger than East German politics or skate culture. Indeed, skating had nothing to do with mimicking America: it was about kids looking for something to do in a concrete world. So there are telling parallels with surfing and snowboarding culture. Persiel assembles this with such skill that it triggers our own memories of that fearless, crazy leader who brought the kids together at our own schools. And how that combination of hope and friendship felt like it could change the world.

15 themes, language,violence, nudity
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