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last update 11.Nov.13
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Breakfast With Jonny Wilkinson
dir Simon Sprackling
scr Chris England
prd Rob Perren
with George MacKay, Norman Pace, Beth Cordingly, Chris England, Michael Beckley, Gina Varela, Nigel Lindsay, Matt Randall, Sam Cooksley, Ricky Phillips, Connor Duig, Alfie Stump
pace, beckley, england, lindsay, varela, cordingly and mackay release UK 22.Nov.13
13/UK 1h35
The Conspiracy This warm, gentle British comedy has fun spinning a tangled farce around the final of the 2003 Rugby World Cup. It's simplistic and goofy, and feels like a filmed play, which it is. But it's a nice bit of escapism with another solid performance from MacKay, who makes the most of an under-written character.

To watch England play Australia for the title in Sydney, seven people gather in the morning at a local rugby clubhouse in England. Jake (MacKay) is a promising young player who feels a connection with his hero Jonny Wilkinson and is encouraged by club manager Dave (Pace). But the club is about to re-elect him, and the contenders are rugby obsessive Nigel (Lindsay), whose wife is going into labour at the wrong time, and energetic Aussie Matt (Beckley), who's cheering for the wrong side today with his friend Lena (Varela).

Also present is the feisty captain of the women's team, Nina (Cordingly), who hates being dismissed by men as her team has won the club's only trophy. And there's also a journalist (England) here to cover the team watching the big match, during which all sorts of comical mayhem erupts. It all feels very stagey, with the limited cast, pointed writing and the single set, which we only leave when Jake goes onto the field to mimic Wilkinson's next kick.

MacKay manages to create the most believable character amid the slapstick silliness. His slightly magical connection with Wilkinson and his flirtation with Lena are nicely played, including a sexy encounter in the locker-room to the strains of the rugby hymn World in Union. The whole cast is fairly likeable, playing up rivalries with comical bickering and small ongoing feuds. No one is very sophisticated, but they're undemanding and engaging.

Although the political wrangling is corny, there's subtext in the sexist attitudes and the way the script makes fun of Rugby Union rules without getting bogged down in the game, which Wilkinson famously won with a series of nailbiting kicks. This gives the movie a much more exciting final act than it deserves after all the soapy silliness that came before. We never remotely care about their madcap antics, but the film has a low-key charm as it acknowledges that some things more important than sport.

12 themes, language, innuendo, some violence
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Escape From Tomorrow
dir-scr Randy Moore
prd Soojin Chung, Gioia Marchese
with Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Jack Dalton, Stass Klassen, Alison Lees-Taylor, Danielle Safady, Annet Mahendru, Lee Armstrong, Amy Lucas, Zan Naar, Steve Fode
dalton and abramsohn release US 11.Oct.13
12/US 1h30

Escape From Tomorrow This film feels like a trip down the rabbit hole, as writer-director Moore plays with Disney iconography to spin a freak-out odyssey as a visit to the theme park becomes a horrific nightmare. It's also a relentlessly imaginative example of the possibilities of low-budget filmmaking.

On the last day of their Florida holiday, Jim (Abramsohn) finds out that he's been sacked. He decides not to tell his wife Emily (Schuber), who's already rather grumpy, so they can have a nice day with their cheeky kids Sara and Elliot (Rodriguez and Dalton). But things in the Disney park seem a bit off, as Jim starts hallucinating. He's also obsessed with two French girls (Safady and Mahendru) who seem to be shadowing them. Then a hypnotically strange woman (Lees-Taylor) tells him about a prostitution ring involving the park's princesses.

To crank up the atmosphere, the filmmaker cleverly draws on the inherent creepiness of Disney's themed rides, augmented by the endless queues, disappointing closures and most of all the family tensions these kinds of holidays bring out. As the story continues, Jim increasingly conflates his life with the well-known characters and the darkness in the fantasy stories. So is what we're seeing all in the mind of a man preoccupied with his recent unemployment? Has Jim really stumbled into a parallel reality? Or is this just a nasty bout of food poisoning?

All of this is superbly shot in black and white and sharply well-edited, with inventive effects work that completely obscures the guerrilla-style filmmaking. Despite the initial disclaimer, this looks like it was planned and shot with full access to the theme parks. It's a strikingly well-made little film, packed with telling details and vivid characters. And the witty script is refreshingly played our by actors in a natural, improvisational style.

As the tension builds, the film takes on Hitchcockian overtones as nice-guy Jim reveals his darkly leery side. And it continues into Lynchian territory with the increasingly surreal nuttiness he encounters. We are constantly surprised both by filmmaker Moore's audacity and his refusal to make the story tidy or, well, Disneyfied. In the end there's even some emotional resonance in what this family goes through in a place that so ruthlessly markets itself on pure happiness.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Triple Crossed
dir Sean Paul Lockhart
scr Linda Andersson
prd Ward Bodner, Steven Vasquez, Ashley Ahn, Joshua Dinner
with Jack Brockett, Sean Paul Lockhart, Laura Reilly, Addison Graham, Tellier Killaby, Steven Tylor O'Connor, Jude Lanston, Ryan Massey, Matt Campbell, Jill Zimmer, Ashley Ahn, Chad Siwik
chapman release UK 21.Oct.13,
US 12.Nov.13
13/US 1h39
Triple Crossed Made on an obviously low budget, this nicely shot and acted dramatic thriller has a slow-burning plot that has just enough intrigue to generate some suspense, even if we can guess where it's headed. The plot may feel rather underdeveloped, but it holds our interest right to the rather insane ending.

After returning from military service in Afghanistan, Chris (Brockett) is living in his car, looking for work and a place to live. He has high hopes when he meets Jackie (Reilly) about a security job, but is thrown off-balance when she instead hires him to kill a guy named Andrew (Lockhart). But Chris recognises Andrew's photo: he's the boyfriend of his army buddy Tyler (Graham), who was killed in action. Andrew is struggling to move on two years after Tyler's death. And there's a strong spark when they meet.

This is one of those films that keep us waiting for the inevitable other shoe to drop. No matter how often he balances his gun in his hand, often while sipping from a cliched bottle in a brown paper bag, we never remotely believe that Chris will carry through with his hit on Andrew. So the question is how Andrew and Jackie will react when they discover that Chris knew Tyler. (We see their story in dodgy flashbacks.)

Aside from the coincidences at the centre of the premise, director Lockhart (better known as pornstar Brent Corrigan) keeps the tone earthy and realistic. And for the most part the actors ground it by underplaying their roles. Although they're more effective at communicating with their waxed-muscled physicality than with the wooden dialog. Brockett and Lockhart are likeable, and generate some nicely understated chemistry, while Reilly has the thankless role as the story's greedy villain.

All of this is gently watchable, even if we're continually reminded of the low budget, from a cheesy score to tentative editing. There's also a gnawing naivete to the screenwriting that begins to wear away at us, including corny plot points and a continuous stream of implausibilities. Fortunately, things pick up in the final act as this turns into a different film altogether. And most intriguing is how Lockhart generates a climactic sense of dread that makes the final act surprisingly tense.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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dir-scr Stephen Reynolds
prd Jonathan Sothcott
with Danny Dyer, Alistair Petrie, Roxanne McKee, Michael Ryan, Vincent Regan, Joshua Osei, Ricci Harnett, Nick Nevern, Ryan Oliva, Bruce Payne, Emma Samms, Tony Denham
release UK 22.Nov.13
13/UK 1h46
Vendetta Here's yet another East London crime thriller that feels like it's based on every similar movie ever made rather than a story or characters that could actually exist in real life. With every cliche imaginable, plus the usual ropey production values, the film is only watchable because Dyer has considerable presence, even when he's doing very unlikeable things.

After his parents (Samms and Denham) were brutally murdered by thugs, Jimmy (Dyer) arrives home from Afghanistan in hiding because he's escaped from military police custody. Highly trained, he efficiently goes about tracking down the drug dealer (Osei) responsible for the murders, then killing him and his sidekicks one by one. Local police inspector Holland (Petrie) sees catching him as a chance to further his career. But when Jimmy's military commanding officer (Regan) arrives, he tells the police to back off.

The story is further complicated by the fact that Jimmy is also trying to patch up his rocky marriage to Morgan (McKee). And he's getting help from his cop-buddy Griff (Ryan), who is forced to act like a double agent. All of the actors are decent in their roles, making the most of the superficial stereotypes and stiff dialog. But no one is very likeable. Dyer's Jimmy is the kind of efficient killing machine Jason Statham usually plays: an essentially good guy who indulges in violence that's far grislier than is strictly necessary.

Writer-director Reynolds gives the film a sleek look when he's using the shiny architecture of East London as a backdrop, but the interior sequences look like they were shot on cheap soap opera sets. He also makes some howling errors here and there, pushing what little plausibility there is right out of the picture. And Holland quickly becomes the requisite villain of the piece for no reason beyond lazy screenwriting.

There's also the problem that Reynolds indulges in scenes that aren't remotely necessary, causing the narrative pace to lurch and stall. We know the police and military are in a power struggle without being shown scene after scene in which they fail to negotiate. All of this is just about watchable because of Dyer's on-screen presence. His swagger is kept far too in-check, but it's there when we need a break from the over-serious silliness of it all. If there was a bit of originality in the story and characters, we might even look forward to a sequel.

18 themes, language, violence
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