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last update 15.Nov.13
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Day of the Flowers
dir John Roberts
scr Eirene Houston
prd Jonathan Rae
with Eva Birthistle, Charity Wakefield, Carlos Acosta, Bryan Dick, Christopher Simpson, Phyllis Logan, Manuel de Blas, Luis Alberto Garcia, Olivia Poulet, Robert Fitch, Daniel Weyman, Elizabeth Hopley
acosta and birthistle release UK 29.Nov.13
12/UK 1h39

edinburgh film festival
Day of the Flowers A solid cast and picturesque locations make this film thoroughly watchable even as the screenplay grows increasingly contrived. The mixture of comical slapstick and much darker, politically themed drama is rather awkward, but there are enough ideas to hold our attention. And we root for the characters to untangle the threads of their lives.

When her father dies, Glasgow activist Rosa (Birthistle) decides to take his ashes to Cuba, where he fell in love with his wife, who later died in Cuba. Then her fashionista sister Ailie (Wakefield) decides to come, along with Rosa's friend Conway (Dick). But their trip becomes a series of small adventures. Ailie is woefully unprepared for international travel, while Rosa gets caught between two men: super-fit Tomas (Acosta) and even hotter Ernesto (Simpson). Both are a little too charming, and Rosa is afraid of both love and of relying on a man.

The film opens with anti-consumer demonstrations in Glasgow, echoing the political activism of Rosa and Ailie's communist-minded dad. Then when the action shifts to Cuba it becomes more like a tourist movie, gorgeously capturing both the towns and countrysides with bursts of Latino culture, including helpful locals, a flamenco nightclub, a herd of wild horses and a cigar factory. And the two men they encounter simplistically encapsulate all of the society's good and bad elements.

Intriguingly, the sisters' disparate personalities provide the film with some clever textures, although Rosa is far too strident and stubborn while Ailie cartoonishly embraces life. Since Rosa's so deliberately abrasive, Birthistle struggles to make her sympathetic, but she sharply captures the point where idealism collides with reality. She also has strong chemistry with both Acosta and Simpson, who steam up the screen nicely. Meanwhile, Wakefield's story arc makes less sense, but she's a lot more fun. And Dick makes the most of his underwritten comic-relief character.

In the end, the plot resolutely refuses to hold water, but there's just enough resonance to keep us emotionally involved. There are plenty of eye-rolling moments along the way, as things turn both corny and predictable, leading to the requisite crazed climax and big revelations that don't quite make sense. But even if the script feels rather sloppy, at its core there's a journey of self-discovery that we can identify with.

15 themes, language, some violence
23.Jun.12 eiff
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Monster Pies
dir-scr-prd Lee Galea
with Tristan Barr, Lucas Linehan, Katrina Maree, Marcel Reluctant, Rohana Hayes, Jeremy Kewley, Nicola Eveleigh, James Liotta, Marlene Magee, Shea MacDonough, Petra Salsjo, Nick Wyatt
barr and linehan
release Aus Apr.13,
UK 11.Nov.13
13/Australia 1h28
Monster Pies With an obvious low budget, this teen sexuality rom-com kicks off with a nice Aussie vibe before morphing into a rather mopey drama. It wins us over with its warm tone and relatable characters, plus some sharp comical and emotional moments, but it's not easy to get past the simplistic writing and direction.

In Melbourne, teen Mike (Barr) is bullied because he's a geek, but finds friendship with new kid Will (Linehan). Teamed up for a class project on Romeo and Juliet, they decide to make a monster movie version. But as they start working together, Mike begins to wonder if Will shares his attraction.Both have issues with at home: Mike is shuttled between his divorced mum and dad (Hayes and Kewley), while Will's father (Reluctant) is a macho thug. Meanwhile, Mike's best pal Jenine (Maree) is furious that he's spending all his time with Will.

The film has a nostalgic tone (it appears to be set in the 1980s), as if filmmaker Galea is using elements from his own life to tell an unusually introspective coming-out story. The title refers to mud and grass pies Mike made with his little brother to distract monsters. And the plot's full of these random distractions. It's relevant that Will's dad pushes him to be a brute, but his brain-injured mum never quite fits. And when a flirty customer (Salsjo) assaults Mike at work, we don't understand why he won't defend himself.

The whole script is slightly underdeveloped, with sudden rom-com plot points that aren't hugely convincing. There's plenty of real emotion and potent issues, but the film is packed with moments that aren't properly linked together by the script. There's also a jarring switch from comical romance to dark drama that makes us worry that all of this is heading for a tragic Shakespearean ending. As a result, most of the serious scenes feel rather hammy.

Amid the low-fi production values (awkward editing, hesitant dialog, uneven acting), both Barr and Linehan are natural and engaging, with a realistic teen gawkiness (Will seems to have no idea that he's about to turn into a serious hunk). Filmmaker Galea also nicely depicts how adolescents are unsure about how they or others really feel, hoping against hope that there's someone else out there like them. So it's a shame the plot is so melodramatic.

15 themes, language, violence
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Powder Room
dir MJ Delaney
scr Rachel Hirons
prd James Cotton, Damian Jones, Nichola Martin
with Sheridan Smith, Jaime Winstone, Kate Nash, Oona Chaplin, Riann Steele, Sarah Hoare, Johnnie Fiori, Micah Balfour, Alex Warren, Zara White, Alice Sanders, Antonia Bernath
smith and winstone release UK 6.Dec.13
13/UK 1h26
Powder Room Adapted by Hirons from her play When Women Wee, this film abandons any sense of realism for a stagey farce set in the ladies' room at a ropey nightclub. Everything is heightened, from the set design to the performances themselves. Fortunately there are two actresses who are skilled at keeping things grounded for the camera.

On a girls' night out, the disorganised Sam (Sheridan) hits the club with her pals: aggressive maneater Chanel (Winstone), trashy Saskia (Hoare) and too-perfect Paige (Steele). But when she runs into the posh Michelle (Nash) and her super-cool French friend Jess (Chaplin), Sam abandons her friends and pretends to be everything she's not. As they circle around each other in the club, they continually return to the ladies' room to make an even bigger mess of the night. And the attendant (Fiori) just rolls her eyes at their idiotic melodramas.

There are other subplots, including two underage girls trying to look older than they are, but the focus stays mainly on Sam as she navigates the craziness of this rather insane evening. Each woman is a single stereotype, written to demonstrate something specific. By contrast, the men are mere shadows; the only two who register are the nice guy (Balfour) who chats to Sam in the smoking area and Sam's equally nice ex (Warren).

The script throws these characters into contrived clashes carefully designed to portray something about the female psyche. While this vaguely cerebral approach may work on stage, it leaves us cold on film, where we need to emotionally engage on some level. But we never believe anything that happens, especially as it dips into silly slapstick. Through all of this, only Sheridan and Winstone create characters who act like real people.

As good as they are, even they are pushed to the brink by Delaney's direction, which strains to crank up the humour with broad performances, nutty camerawork and cartoonish sounds. The ladies' room is a riot of colour, but looks like a stage set rather than a nightclub loo. And in the end, all of the emotional turmoil these women go through is painfully superficial. That might be the whole point, but it leaves the film feeling like one long toilet joke.

15 themes, language, drugs
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Who Needs Enemies
dir-scr Peter Stylianou
prd Tony Currier
with Michael McKell, Ian Pirie, Tom Carey, Emma Barton, Kris Johnson, Glen Fox, Lincoln Samuel, Victoria Donovan, Nick Lavelle, Donna Preston, Ryan Oliva, Ben Stapleton
Who Needs Enemies release UK 29.Nov.13
13/UK 1h31
Who Needs Enemies There are some intriguing characters in here, but filmmaker Stylianou focusses on plot rather than the themes that might have helped it resonate. Also, the fractured narrative undermines every possible moment of surprise or drama, and it doesn't help that the British crime thriller genre is vastly overdone.

Ian (McKell) is a London gangster who sends his best goons Tony and Chris (Carey and Johnson), plus Tony's pal Mark (Fox), to visit Tom (Pirie), who has a bag of cash and something else Ian wants back. But the hotheaded Chris kills Tom, while Mark puts himself in jeopardy by seeing something he shouldn't. As this fateful event escalates out of control, Tony's girlfriend Cat (Barton) gets fed up with all this nonsense and ends up in danger herself. And Ian's wife Vicky (Donovan) is about to get the shock of her life.

All of this unspools out of sequence, in eight chapters that circle around each other. Every shocking event is shown to us in advance, before we're sure what it means, so as we cycle back and see scenes from other angles, the tension is completely diffused since we know what happens next. Writer-director Stylianou seems frightened to properly explain other important story elements to us. But vague hints are never chilling.

When it finally emerges what this story is all about, we should be horrified. But we simply haven't been given enough information in the right order. Aside from the women, who are essentially just victims, the only character we remotely like is Tony, because he at least seems to have a conscience. Carey plays him well, although he's such a genuinely good guy that we wonder why he's working as a thug.

By contrast, McKell and Johnson are so effective at playing sadistic monsters that we merely wait for something nasty to happen to them. And Fox's sharp-swaggering Mark is essentially just along to add some comical relief, so we miss him badly when he's not on-screen. Through all of this, Stylianou tries to keep the film slick and stylish but never quite gets it right: everything feels a little amateurish, including most of the minor actors. So in the end we're left to find the genuinely good idea inside a rough and messy movie.

18 themes, language, violence, drugs
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