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last update 24.Oct.13
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Five Dances
dir-scr Alan Brown
prd Alan Brown, Agathe David-Weill, Tracy Utley
with Ryan Steele, Reed Luplau, Catherine Miller, Kimiye Corwin, Luke Murphy, LuLu Roche
luplau and steele release US 4.Oct.13,
UK 21.Oct.13
13/US 1h23
Five Dances Gentle and sensual, this quiet drama traces a young man's arrival in the big city, where breaking away from his parents' strict rules helps him discover freedom, friendship and love for the first time in his life. It's warm and sweet and also rather superficial.

At 18, Chip (Steele) joins a small company of dancers preparing for a festival performance in New York, but his mother (Roche) keeps calling him demanding help. Pushy and manipulative, she tries everything to get him to quit this job and go home to Kansas. Meanwhile, the other dancers are teaching him about New York life; Katie (Miller) becomes a confidant to whom he can talk about his difficult past, while he has a spark of attraction with Theo (Luplau). And leader Anthony (Murphy) gives him his first solo.

The film is punctuated with scenes of the dance rehearsals, expressively choreographed by Jonah Bokaer and sensitively photographed by Derek McKane. This gives the story a remarkably intimate tone, as the relationships unfold with intense physicality. Everyone on-screen is extraordinarily fit, so their movements sizzle with sensuality and poetic artistry. And the conversations between Chip and his fellow dancers are just as intimate.

This is a remarkably gentle, restrained look at what it's like to leave your childhood behind and try to make it on your own. Chip may have rather a lot more innate talent than the average guy, but it's intriguing to watch his insecurities dissolve as he finds his place in the world. In conversations we learn about his troubled past, personal insecurities and deep yearnings. This allows the actor-dancers to invest a lot of subtext into their roles, letting us see their characters' emotions beyond what the dialog tells us.

With moody music and a strikingly visual approach, filmmaker Brown holds our interest, lovingly exploring the characters' physicality as they develop their performance together and bond as colleagues and friends. Although he shies away from the sexual chemistry in a way that's almost embarrassingly timid for a story like this. Even so, this is a subtle and understated film that focuses beautifully on the people rather than the plot. And there's just enough of a story here to resonate with us.

15 themes, sexuality
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dir Dominique Cardona, Laurie Colbert
scr Laurie Colbert, Margaret Webb
prd Rechna Varma
with Nicola Correia-Damude, Claire Lautier, Patrick McKenna, Maya Ritter, Christine Horne, Marco Grazzini, Carlos Gonzales-Vio, Supinder Wraich, Lea Doz, Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Rebecca Applebaum
correia-damude and ritter release UK 21.Oct.13
12/Canada 1h30

london l&g film festival
Margarita Serious drama and complex interaction add depth to this breezy romantic comedy. The film feels effortless and perhaps a bit slight, but has plenty of subtext that lets us see ourselves in each scene. And as its six characters cycle around each other, there's just enough farce to keep us smiling.

Even with the considerable income of a dentist and doctor, Ben and Gail (McKenna and Lautier) are in financial trouble after a combination of overspending and bad investments. Their 14-year-old daughter Mali (Ritter) is mortified when their car is repossessed. She's even more shocked when her parents sack her Mexican nanny Margarita (Correia-Damude), because she's part of the family. This reveals the bigger problem that Margarita has overstayed her visa, and her girlfriend Jane (Horne) isn't willing to commit to marriage. So Margarita's lovelorn gardener friend Carlos (Grazzini) offers another solution.

The film has a snappy, realistic tone that establishes authentic characters and situations with authentic chemistry reflecting years of close relationships. Correia-Damude and Ritter have an effortless sister-like bond, while McKenna and Lautier ricochet between lusty camaraderie and various levels of jagged tension. In this sense, the writing and direction are also especially sharp, finding details that fill in the connections between characters.

The one nagging improbability is that, since Margarita is such a super-nanny (wise beyond her years, she even does home repairs), letting her go makes no financial sense. It is also heartbreaking for Margarita, which adds a striking counterpoint to her believably lusty but slightly worrying relationship with Jane, who says she loves Margarita but is hesitant about being together. This situation also forces Gail and Ben to face long-buried issues in their marriage. And these issues swirl together in a soapy, silly way that's thoroughly engaging.

The film is nicely shot and edited, managing to make the wintry Canadian setting seem almost inviting. It certainly makes us want to dip into a steamy hot tub surrounded by snow! Germaine Franco's Latina-style score adds some spice, while the characters' warmth wins us over. Yes, everyone adds personality and energy to each scene, along with subtext and meaningful emotion. And what's amazing is that they manage to play some seriously painful, difficult scenes without undermining the film's bright, rom-com tone.

15 themes, language
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Prince Avalanche
dir-scr David Gordon Green
prd James Belfer, David Gordon Green, Lisa Muskat, Derrick Tseng, Craig Zobel
with Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne, Gina Grande, Lynn Shelton, Larry Kretschmar, Enoch Moon, Danni Wolcott, Morgan Calderoni, Savanna Porter, Juniper Smith
rudd and hirsch release US 9.Aug.13,
UK 18.Oct.13
13/US 1h34


Prince Avalanche Gentle and observant, this low-energy comedy is an astute exploration of two men who are having trouble facing up to the truth about themselves. As most men do. It's gorgeously shot in a natural setting that isolates these two men from the rest of society, giving them space to work things out.

In 1988, Lance (Hirsch) is working for his sister's boyfriend Alvin (Rudd) repainting lines and replacing posts along a road through Texas that was damaged by wildfires. They pitch a tent in the woods as they go along, occasionally taking weekend breaks in town. Together they're also working through their private issues. Lance is desperate for sex, and frustrated that his weekend trips don't go as planned. Alvin is devoted to his girlfriend and is unprepared for her next letter. So actually Lance and Alvin have no real reason to stick together at all.

Rudd and Hirsch deliver offhanded, naturalistic performances that continually hint at their characters' inner demons. Both are obsessive about certain things, intolerant of others and eager to find some common ground with this stranger they're stuck with, but they don't always go about this in the most helpful way. And the only people they encounter are a truck driver (LeGault) who gives them home-made hooch and a woman (Payne) who lost everything in the fire.

Writer-director Green shoots this beautifully, catching emerging signs of life in the forest as well as the eerie beauty of the recovering burnt-out landscape. He juxtaposes this with the work Alvin and Lance are doing to repair the road, as well as their tentative camaraderie, which at times devolves into all-out war. Within this setting, Rudd and Hirsch emerge as vivid characters who continually catch us off-guard with their hilarious observations and narrow-minded actions.

Most of the humour is generous and warm, but there are several scenes that spark nervous laughter of recognition and other moments that get downright dark. Green bridges these mood swings seamlessly, carrying us along as we get a startling glimpse into the souls of these two men who are struggling to admit their insecurities and deal with the emotions they are feeling. And what they express is funny and insightful.

15 themes, language, some violence
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Short Term 12
dir-scr Destin Daniel Cretton
prd Joshua Astrachan, Asher Goldstein, Ron Najor, Maren Olson
with Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr, Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield, Stephanie Beatriz, Alex Calloway, Kevin Hernandez, Frantz Turner, Lydia Du Veaux, Diana Maria Riva, Melora Walters
larson and stanfield
release US 23.Aug.13,
UK 1.Nov.13
13/US 1h36

london film festival
Short Term 12 With documentary-style realism, filmmaker Cretton offers a bracingly honest exploration of the fallout from child abuse. But even though the film visits some extremely dark corners, it remains clear-eyed and hopeful about the future. Which helps us engage as we get deeply involved with the characters.

Grace and Mason (Larson and Gallagher) are counsellors at a short-term group home for at-risk teens. They're also secretly having a relationship, which takes a momentous turn when Grace discovers that she's pregnant, as it brings up serious issues from her childhood. Meanwhile, they and their colleagues (Malek and Beatriz) are working with a variety of kids including Marcus (Stanfield), who's about to turn 18 and leave care, and new arrival Jayden (Dever), who keeps trying to sneak out to visit her abusive dad.

Told from Grace's perspective, the film dives deeply into her back-story, but only as she's willing to face it herself. Larson plays every scene with a remarkable transparency, letting us see things Grace won't even admit to herself. And her relationship with Mason, who grew up in foster homes, is a complex bundle of emotions for both of them. Opposite Larson, Gallagher shines in a difficult role. And young actors Dever and Stanfield also have moments of pungent truthfulness.

Writer-director Cretton keeps the film's focus tight and sometimes almost claustrophobic. The world outside this insular community is only barely glimpsed on-screen, as these people are essentially the only family they've got. For contrast we get a brief scene involving Mason's sprawling foster family, which hints at the positive impact a caring adult can have in the life of a troubled child. Cretton conveys all of this with remarkable sensitivity simply because he never shies away from either the terrifying reality or the healing possibilities.

Indeed, Grace and Mason can identify with these kids all too well, and the teens respond to them much more strongly than to the experienced professional (Turner) who oversees the facility. But then, Grace and Mason still have lingering issues of their own to deal with as they enter the next stage in their adult lives, and facing up to buried problems from the past is only the beginning.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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