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last update 26.Jun.13
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Black Rock
dir Katie Aselton
scr Mark Duplass
prd Adele Romanski
with Katie Aselton, Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth, Will Bouvier, Jay Paulson, Anslem Richardson, Carl K Aselton III, Carl Aselton, Tyler Openshaw, Stephen Smith, Michael Kuhni, Ron Green
bosworth, aselton and bell release US 17.May.13,
UK 21.Jun.13
12/US 1h23

london film fest
Black Rock It's rare to find a thriller with such finely defined characters who act like real people. They actually struggle both psychologically and physically when required to kill someone. We've seen Duplass write scripts that break cinema conventions like this, but who knew that his actress wife Aselton would turn out to be an equally innovative director?

For a weekend camping trip to an island they haven't visited since their childhood, Sarah (Bosworth) invites her two best friends Lou and Abby (Bell and Aselton), even tough they've been at war with each other for six years. Just about agreeing to bury the hatchet, they are beginning their adventure when they run into three cute hunters (Bouvier, Paulson and Richardson). But an evening of flirtation turns ugly, and the boys begin hunting the girls in the woods. On the other hand, these feisty women know the island far better than the boys.

With astute direction, a smart script and honest performances, the film's characters snap to life with tension, humour and believable emotion. The relationship between these three women is packed with history, including girly camaraderie and very bad blood. It's understandable why they have trouble getting over Lou's indiscretion, and these fine actresses are sharp, funny and sometimes startlingly intense. Then they meet these three young ex-soldiers, and are understandably relieved by the distraction.

The plot is so simple that it takes us completely aback, freaking us out with every twist and turn of events. The moral complexity keeps our minds spinning along with the characters, and no one has time to properly work out the right thing to do. They're also not sure if they're tough or strong enough to get through this alive. Indeed, the only mode of escape, their boat, is adrift in freezing-cold water.

As a director Aselton keeps things sharp and quick, never wasting a moment while continually playing with the audience, dropping in clues while throwing us off the scent. The women know these military-minded men will never give up, so they can't just hide: they have to fight back. So things get very violent, with a realistic sense of how messy this kind of thing would be. So in the end, we're worn out from the suspense but we feel eerily alive.

15 themes, language, violence
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I Want Your Love
dir-scr Travis Mathews
prd Travis Mathews, Jack J Shamama
with Jesse Metzger, Ben Jasper, Keith McDonald, Wayne Bumb, Brontez Purnell, Ferrin Solano, Jorge Rodolfo, Peter DeGroot, Shannon O'Malley, Courtney Trouble, Justin Time, Mike Ojeda
metzger release US Jul.12 off,
UK 28.Jun.13
12/US 1h11
I Want Your Love This drama may contain some extremely explicit sex scenes, but it's a festival film, not porn. Experimental and free-flowing, it's an almost plotless exploration of the interrelationships between six gay men in San Francisco over the course of about 36 hours. It's consistently intriguing, but realistically fragmented.

Jesse (Metzger) is returning home to Ohio after his performance art career failed to take off. His friends throw a goodbye party the night before he leaves, which makes him nervous because his ex Ben (Jasper) is coming. Will they rekindle their chemistry? Probably not because Ben is now flirting with Jesse's chatty friend Brontez (Purnell). Meanwhile, Jesse's smiley-bear pal Wayne (Bumb) finds his relationship with boyfriend Ferrin (Solano) strained when they move in together. So Jesse turns to his older, wiser pal Keith (McDonald) for advice. And possibly more.

All of these men engage in sexual encounters that feels so improvised that we almost wonder if there was even a script outline before Mathews started shooting. Performances are lively and engaging, although each actor seems to be trying a bit too hard (ahem!) to reveal one key personality point about his character: Jesse's vague yearning, Ben's curiosity, Keith's hidden desire, and so on. But this leaves each of them as essentially a personality, not a person. And it means that none of them are very likeable.

That said, the film is put together beautifully, with sharp camerawork and a concise, insightful style of editing that never indulges in unnecessary directorial flashiness. Indeed, the film is almost grubby in its approach to men and sex, graphically showing bedroom encounters that are funny, awkward, sweet, empty and sometimes rather nasty. The actors certainly aren't shy about these scenes, which feel relaxed and honest in ways movies never are.

You couldn't call this pornography because it isn't remotely prurient. This is an exploration of gay male intimacy that, as the title suggests, explores the line between lust and love, as well as the difference between physical and emotional closeness. It doesn't really have a message, or anything particularly revelatory to say on the topic. But it's notable that Mathews is trying to put important themes and realistic intimacy on the screen with integrity.

18 themes, language, strong sexuality
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Much Ado About Nothing
dir-scr-prd Joss Whedon
with Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Tom Lenk, Ashley Johnson
Much Ado About Nothing release US 7.Jun.13,
UK 14.Jun.13
12/US 1h47

Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare's romantic farce gets the American treatment in an experimental black and white film from Avengers/Buffy director Whedon. But with its gently improvised tone and random slapstick, it's more of an intriguing idea than a successful film. And it only hints at the play's romance, humour and emotion.

After capturing his rival Don John (Maher), Don Pedro (Diamond) and his goons Benedick and Claudio (Denisof and Kranz) deliver him to his mob boss brother Leonato (Gregg). Once there, confirmed bachelor Benedick continues a sassy game of wits with Leonato's feisty love-rejecting daughter Beatrice (Acker), while Claudio asks Don Pedro to help arrange his marriage to her sweet cousin Hero (Morgese). But Leonato decides to have a bit of fun, tricking Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love. Meanwhile, Don John is plotting with two cohorts (Lindhome and Clark) to destroy his brother.

The film has a loose, relaxed tone that's thoroughly engaging, even if it's a bit jarring in present-day America to have people call each other "my lord" or "your grace". But the tone feels strangely muted for the material, which demands highs of romantic joy and some deep tragic lows along with nutty comical asides. These elements never quite flow together in the narrative (as they did so well in Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film). It's enjoyable enough to hold our interest, but never gives us that surge of passion.

Part of the problem is that men in black suits are difficult to tell apart (unless you're familiar with Whedon's actor buddies). But the actors are excellent. We enjoy watching Denisof's spiky Benedick being unknowingly manipulated into romance with Acker's equally over-confident Beatrice. Although as things get increasingly goofy, most characters begin to feel strained, such as the bumbling detectives played by Fillion and Lenk.

Shot over 12 days, Whedon keeps the film's design relatively simple, as if it were made on home video in his house with his friends. Which is exactly what happened. But the story is so tangled that it keeps us smiling, even when things take a few very dark turns involving horrible humiliation and even murder. So if it kind of botches the delicate balance of Shakespeare's play, this warm, witty film is worth seeing for its inventive approach.

PG themes, language, innuendo
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The Seasoning House
dir Paul Hyett
prd Michael Riley
scr Paul Hyett, Conal Palmer, Adrian Rigelsford
with Rosie Day, Kevin Howarth, Sean Pertwee, Anna Walton, Alec Utgoff, Ryan Oliva, David Lemberg, Jemma Powell, Philip Anthony, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Laurence Saunders, Abigail Hamilton
walton and day
release UK 28.Jun.13
12/US 1h29

sundance london film fest
The Seasoning House It looks like a horror movie and is being billed as a revenge thriller, but it's actually a grisly drama that moves slowly and quietly between brief outbursts of tense action or extreme violence. It's cleverly made on a small budget, but is so over-designed and carefully structured that we never believe it.

In the war-torn mid-1990s Balkans, deaf-mute Angel (Day) has been abducted from her family by brutal commando Goran (Pertwee), who collects young girls for a seedy brothel run by Viktor (Howarth). But Viktor takes a liking to Angel, giving her the job of keeping the other girls drugged up for the soldier customers. Sneaking around in the air ducts, she discovers one girl (Walton) who knows sign language, and plots to help her escape. Then Goran returns with his brother (Utgoff) and their comrade thugs (including muscly monster Oliva).

Shot in London, the film strains to make the Balkans the grubbiest place on earth, complete with the most disgusting brothel you've ever seen. We can almost smell the stench of the place, although frankly the scent we imagine is actually the mud-coloured paint splashed everywhere by the set decorators, who also board up the windows in the most dramatic way possible. Meanwhile, the make-up artists have a heyday with the girls, applying smudges, blood stains and rats-nest hairdos with wild abandon.

So nothing looks remotely realistic. And the plot isn't much more believable, since the final act relies on contrived coincidences. Not to mention a couple of unnecessarily graphic rape sequences. Fortunately, Day and Walton manage to make their victimised characters into real people, and they even inject surprising warmth into a growing friendship, which has quiet hints of something deeper.

Of the men, only Howarth is allowed to be complex. Viktor may be a monster, but his self-delusions are at least telling: he believes he's protecting these women, so he thinks he deserves their trust. And his delusional romance with Angel is genuinely chilling. As are the gruesome scenes of violence. Along the way, effects guru-turned-filmmaker Hyett also generates suspense in a few cat-and-mouse sequences, with the nice slant that the woman always has the upper hand. So the final flurry of corny twists feels like a cheat.

18 themes, language, strong violence
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