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last update 8.May.13
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Flying Blind
dir Katarzyna Klimkiewicz
prd Alison Sterling
scr Caroline Harrington, Naomi Wallace, Bruce McLeod
with Helen McCrory, Najib Oudghiri, Kenneth Cranham, Lorcan Cranitch, Tristan Gemmill, Razane Jammal, Tim Wallers, Cameron Stewart, Sam Ellis, Glyn Grimstead, Philippa Howard, Sherif Eltayeb
oudghiri and mccrory release UK 12.Apr.13
12/UK 1h33

edinburgh film fest
Flying Blind It's terrific to see the wonderful McCrory in a leading role as a strong, intelligent and sexy middle-aged woman. When was the last time we saw a film with one of those? So even if this dramatic thriller feels somewhat simplistic, both in its filmmaking and scriptwriting, it's still thoroughly watchable.

Frankie (McCrory) is a top British aerospace expert who falls for much-younger Algerian man Kahil (Oudghiri) after he pursues her relentlessly. In her role as a military contractor, having a torrid romance with a Muslim looks a bit iffy to her father (Cranham) and her colleagues. And this is precisely why she refuses to give in to outside pressure, defiantly standing up to prejudice and stereotyping. Then she looks into Kahil's story, and begins to doubt him herself. And as things get messier, everyone starts treating her like a pariah.

The plot races along without dealing with its implausibilities (wouldn't a top military-aerospace expert have password protection on her laptop?), stirring sinister suggestions underneath a relatively superficial romantic surface. But even there, the script fails to invest much into the love story beyond the urgent spark of chemistry between them. Meanwhile, there's so much suspicion and subterfuge that her actions start looking downright silly as the intrigue develops.

There are also more than a few contrived twists and turns before the movie strains itself into political thriller territory. Along the way, the filmmakers raise some strong issues that cleverly play on our own preconceptions, forcing us to explore our own reactions. And the story touches intriguingly on current questions surrounding drone technology (Frankie's specialty), noting that 15 civilians die for every enemy target killed.

But it's McCrory who makes this worth seeing. She's terrific at finding Frankie's complex inner life, giving a Judi Dench-style performance with both razor-sharp intelligence and emotional intensity. Even if the story hinges on critical misunderstandings that are based on fear, she makes us believe it. So it's a shame that director Klimkiewicz shoots most scenes in close-up like an efficient but bland TV movie. A superior one, perhaps, but not as complex as it should have been with such a fine performance at its centre.

15 themes, language, sexuality
22.Jun.12 eiff
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Nate & Margaret
dir Nathan Adloff
scr Nathan Adloff, Justin DM Palmer
prd Nathan Adloff, Ash Christian
with Natalie West, Tyler Ross, Conor McCahill, Gaby Hoffmann, Charles Solomon Jr, Danny Rhodes, Allison Latta, Sadieh Rifai, Shawn Ryan, John Ainsworth, Angela LaRocca
ross and west release US 22.Jun.12,
UK 8.Apr.13
12/US 1h18
Nate & Margaret Warm and involving, this gentle comedy-drama has some dark edges even if it never dips into the blackly comical depths of the classic it's so clearly trying to emulate: Hal Ashby's Harold & Maude. But the film's casual style wins us over.

Nate (Ross) is a 19-year-old Chicago film student, and his best friend is 52-year-old stand-up wannabe Margaret (West). As he helps her fine-tune her material, she joins the crew for his film project. Both are trying to work themselves out: Nate is just coming to terms with his sexuality and the fact that the sexy James (McCahill) likes him; Margaret is afraid to use her personal life in her angry-grandma act. Then their friendship is strained when Nate and James' relationship starts to develop and her stand-up career begins to take off.

The script and direction are a bit tentative, with a loose pace and a generic musical score. Although this allows for some nicely offhanded performances, especially from the likeable, slightly too-smiley Ross. Opposite him, McCahill's James seems like a jerk while, as Nate's film-school pal, Hoffmann is in trashy scene-stealing mode. More interesting is West's brittle, needy turn as a woman who might finally be starting her life. It's her coming of age that gives the film its heart.

There's a sense that Adloff is telling an autobiographical story (a young filmmaker named Nate?), and also that he knows that he's talking about. The characters feel bracingly honest, and this odd-couple friendship has a believable fragility to it, as both characters know that they are unlikely best pals. They try to be happy for each other even as they struggle to find common ground. But they're still working at it.

Strangely, the more we get to know Nate, the less we like him, mainly because he simply refuses to do what he knows is the right thing, even though we understand why. This adds a bittersweet tone to the film that surprisingly gets under our skin. And as the plot goes through its machinations, we begin to feel for both of these people. We know they'll be fine, but we hope they manage to figure out how to face life together.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
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Upstream Color
dir-scr Shane Carruth
prd Shane Carruth, Casey Gooden, Ben LeClair
with Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins, Kathy Carruth, Meredith Burke, Andreon Watson, Ashton Miramontes, Myles McGee, Frank Mosley, Carolyn King, Kerry McCormick
seimetz and carruth
release US 5.Apr.13,
UK Apr.13 slf
13/US 1h36


sundance london film fest
Upstream Color Carruth is back with an even more challenging film than Primer, eschewing traditional narrative to create a sensual thriller based on visual and audio textures. But there's not much in the way of coherent plot or characterisation.

Kris (Seimetz) has her life upended when a thief (Martins) drugs her into a hypnotic state then gets her to hand over virtually everything she owns. Afterwards, she's unable to make sense of what happened and has to piece her life back together from scratch. She's also inexplicably drawn to Jeff (Carruth), a guy she sees daily on the train, and they enter a curious relationship in which they intuitively feel like something bigger is controlling their lives. This leads them to a confrontation with a sound recordist (Sensenig) and his pen of captive piglets.

The film is so finely shot and edited that we know Carruth is telling the story exactly as intended, which makes it all the more frustrating that it's so impenetrable. The sound mix is masterful, as are the acting and cinematography. And even if we can't quite follow it, we can see Carruth cleverly weaving in and out of various plot strands and timelines, sometimes giving us clues about what has happened and other times deliberately confusing us further with outrageous gaps in logic and scenes that refuse to fit in.

But honestly, what is happening here? Is the recordist a representative of God? A demon? Some sort of alien being trying to control humanity by collecting and connecting sound samples, worms, plants, people and pigs? It doesn't really matter, because the film builds a startling level of emotional suspense even without bringing us in on the joke. And even though it resolutely refuses to come into focus while we're watching it, an eerie consistency develops in retrospect.

Also, since Carruth is so sure-handed, we feel confident just going with the flow, as bewildering and indulgent as it may be. In this sense the film is more like a surreal David Lynch thriller than Terrence Malick's kaleidoscopic Tree of Life, which it strongly resembles. Either way, it leaves us scratching our heads in dazed confusion.

15 themes, language, violence, drugs
28.Apr.13 slf
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Vehicle 19
dir-scr Mukunda Michael Dewil
prd Ryan Haidarian, Peter Safran
with Paul Walker, Naima McLean, Gys de Villiers, Leyla Haidarian, Tshepo Maseko, Andrian Mazive, Welile Nzuza, Mangaliso Ngema, Brandon Lindsay, Ben Tjibe, Thembi Vilakazi, Mack Mashale
walker release UK 10.May.13
13/South Africa 1h25
Vehicle 19 A relentless series of events turns an American into a terrified fugitive when he has the temerity to travel abroad. The plot makes very little sense, and plays out like a less compelling version of Taken, but there are some guilty-pleasure thrills along the way to the satisfyingly gonzo climax.

After a gruelling flight, recently paroled Michael (Walker) arrives at Johannesburg airport to see his ex (Haidarian). But the rental agency gives him the wrong car and he immediately gets stuck in a traffic jam, discovering both a strange phone and a gun in the car. Clearly something is wrong here. Then Detective Smith (de Villiers) phones him with an address where he can switch to the correct car, but of course it's not that easy. Especially when he finds an angry woman (McLean) tied up in the back.

Skilfully shot and edited, the film quickly establishes the fact that Michael has broken parole to leave America, which hints that he has given up everything to be with his ex, although we're not sure why. Then we discover that the great Screenwriter in the Sky has other plans, sending him into a contrived nightmarish odyssey before he can get to her. Even so, it's not as if he's an innocent man who hasn't a clue how to cope with this kind of thing.

While mainly set inside a car, the film still manages to capture the hazards of life in urban South Africa, including street urchins, kidnappers and carjackers. The plot surges forward relentlessly, regardless of whether it makes a lick of sense (it doesn't), hoping the nonstop series of incidents keeps us interested (it does). Along the way there are thrilling set-pieces, sometimes random and perplexing and occasionally more straightforward action-movie chases with witty twists to them. Guns are fired, cars are smashed, things explode for no reason.

Walker is solid in the role, a blunt hero struggling to keep his cool in a perplexing situation. His jagged interaction with McLean veers from antagonism to cooperation as he's pulled into her nightmare, a dangerous cocktail of bent cops and corrupt politicians. The script never really deals with these serious issues, but this at least adds a level of topicality, because everything else is contrived and over-serious.

12 themes, language, violence
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