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last update 30.Jul.13
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Burton and Taylor
dir Richard Laxton
scr William Ivory
prd Lachlan MacKinnon
with Dominic West, Helena Bonham Carter, Greg Hicks, Lenora Crichlow, Isabella Brazier-Jones, Lucille Sharp, Stanley Townsend, Cassie Raine, Sarah Hadland, William Hope, Michael Jibson, Jeff Mash
bonham carter and west release UK 26.Aug.13,
US 20.Oct.13
13/UK BBC 1h30
Burton and Taylor Rather than an exhaustive account of the notoriously tempestuous romance, this film centres on a specific event later in life. And without too many whistles and bells, it presents these iconic actors as people who are irresistibly drawn to each other even as they can't stand to be together.

In 1983, Elizabeth Taylor (Bonham Carter) invites her two-time ex-husband Richard Burton (West) to her 50th birthday party. She flirts shamelessly and tries to ply him with alcohol (he's a recovering alcoholic), then asks him to appear on Broadway with her in a production of Noel Coward's Private Lives. He agrees, and as the play goes into rehearsals and opens, they continue to push each other's buttons. Richard is feeling frail and is engaged to Sally (Raine); Elizabeth is popping pills and guzzling alcohol. But the show is, of course, a sensation.

By limiting the plot to the final project these two worked on together (plus one telling flashback), the filmmakers avoid the standard trajectory of fame and addiction, as well as the gimmicky progression of hair and makeup effects. Instead, what we get is a more thoughtful exploration of how these two larger-than-life figures were inextricably attached even as they pursued separate lives.

Both lead performances are excellent. West may not quite capture how ill Burton was at this point in his life (he died nine months later), but he vividly portrays his world-weary attitude and commanding presence, as well as how his deep admiration of Taylor's talent mingled with frustration and, more simply, lust. Bonham Carter is almost too iconic herself to disappear into Taylor, and yet there are moments that take the breath away as she catches that wanton diva attitude, including her raucous laugh.

When they're together on screen, West and Bonham Carter sizzle with chemistry as two people whose passion has worn each other out. Their emotions are still intertwined, but the know better than to indulge in those feelings again. And by limiting the story to this point in time, the filmmakers cleverly convey how they came together in the first place. It's not a very ambitious film, but the simple direction and astute writing let the actors tell the story in a way that's both entertaining and heartbreakingly bittersweet.

15 themes, language, innuendo, some violence
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Dream On
dir-scr Lloyd Eyre-Morgan
prd Lloyd Eyre-Morgan, Andonis Anthony
with Bradley Cross, Joe Gosling, Emily Spowage, Janet Bamford, Matthew Seber, Michael Ross, Mark Hill, Nicola Jeanne, Annie Wallace, Derek Lawson, Haydn Holden, Zoe Iqbal
cross and gosling release UK 10.Jun.13
13/UK 1h35
Dream On Eyre-Morgan adapts his own play for the screen, but struggles to convey the strong themes in a way that connects with a movie audience. The film's simplistic, stilted style continually throws us out of the reality of this story, which does has something important to say about personal choices.

In 1987 Wales, nervous 16-year-old Paul (Cross) arrives at a campground with his pushy mother Denise (Bamford). They meet site manager Norman (Seber) and his trampy daughter Angharad (Spowage). But it's another teen, George (Gosling), who helps Paul express himself and his sexuality for the first time. After the holiday, Paul returns to a dull job in Rochdale with a promise: they'll return a year later and run away together. But George doesn't turn up because he has turned to alcohol to survive his abusive father. Will they ever have their dreamed-for escape?

Cross and Spowage are clearly closer to 26 than 16, which gives the film a cheesy sketch-show vibe. Gosling gets away with it because his performance is more naturalistic. But everything is undone by clunky photography, editing and direction that resembles a corny cautionary teen soap from the 80s. And Eyre-Morgan guides the cast to broad performances that create cartoon characters rather than people. Paul's a naive whiner, George is a good-time boy with dark demons, Denise and Angharad are both slaggy women who are desperate for a man.

Aside from a nice use of location settings, there isn't much that adapts the play for the cinema. Dialog is arch and overstated, which may work on stage but leaves a film feeling simplistic and obvious. The montage sequence of George and Bradley becoming closer as friends is almost painfully trite, especially since Eyre-Morgan seems so terrified of on-screen sexuality. And later on, the drama boils over into undercooked melodrama.

This is a textbook case in which a playwright shouldn't film his own material. With a more cinematic approach, the strong themes might have some impact. This is about a teen finding the courage to be himself, inspired by an unlikely friendship. Two key scenes between Paul and George are genuinely touching. And there's a potent kick in the way the overlong plot twists to the end. Life might derail our dream, but maybe we can find a new one.

15 themes, language, innuendo, some violence
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Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean
dir-scr Matthew Mishory
prd Edward Singletary Jr, Randall Walk, Robert Zimmer Jr
with James Preston, Dan Glenn, Dalilah Rain, Edward Singletary Jr, Erin Daniels, Robert Gant, Clare Grant, Nick Heyman, David Pevsner, Jay Donnell, William Kauffman, Elizabeth Carlton Chase
glenn and preston
release US 12.Dec.12,
UK 13.May.13
12/US 1h33
Joshua Tree, 1951 Although it tries too hard to be artistic on a limited budget, this fragmented collage is compulsive viewing. It's a sleek, stylish collection of black and white scenes, with brief glimpses of colour, so it at least looks terrific even if the filmmaker's indulgent style gets on our nerves.

In 1951 Los Angeles before landing his first role, young actor Jimmy Dean (Preston) borrows his mentor Roger's (Singletary) car and heads to Joshua Tree National Park in the desert with Violet (Rain) and his actor-roommate (Glenn). Meanwhile he's thinking about two years earlier at acting school, where he moved in with the roommate and they bonded over candlelit dinners. But now in the desert, the roommate looks longingly on as James flirts with Violet, remembering their easy physicality and wishing James wouldn't experiment with both men and women.

One problem is that Dean is portrayed as an icon come to life, not as a real person. Unable to properly interact with anyone around him, he's not very interesting, especially since writer-director Mishory seems to think that brooding good looks and a surly attitude are enough to define a character. Dean is equally as stoic in flashbacks to acting school or sitting around Roger's rising-star draped pool. And even if he doesn't look much like Dean, Abercrombie model Preston at least does handsome-repellent well, while Mishory's camera sniffs around his toned physique.

Meanwhile, the beat-poet style narration strains to build an intellectual noir sensibility that links Dean with his literary heroes. On the other hand, the film is very sensuous, capturing the lusty youthful urges of a variety of characters, often in aching slow motion. Not only does this film portray Dean's bisexuality (including casting-couch experiences), but it also explores how he was heavily influenced personally and artistically by those around him.

Mishory's approach includes intriguing depictions of filmmaking and acting, the decadent Hollywood lifestyle and sexual confusion. But the flashbacks-within-flashbacks structure leaves scenes feeling unconnected. Like most American filmmakers, he's so coy about sexuality that he shoots sex scenes like a shy voyeur, missing the whole point. And portraying Dean as his on-screen persona rather than as a real man focuses on style at the expense of substance.

18 themes, physicality
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dir Todd Verow
scr-prd Todd Verow, Brad Hallowell
with Brad Hallowell, Brett Faulkner, Todd Verow, Erica LaChance, Candice Hill
faulkner and hallowell
release UK 26.Aug.13
13/US 1h20
Tumbledown Verow tells a true story from three separate perspectives, exploring the idea that one person can never know the full truth of an event. Verow isn't the most sophisticated or subtle filmmaker (or actor), but the movie is pretty creepy. And he makes an interesting point.

In 2010 Maine, Rick (Hallowell) works in a rather sparsely populated bar. Two customers are Jay (Verow) and his younger boyfriend Mike (Faulkner), who invite Rick to go camping with them at Tumbledown Mountain, near where Rick lives. After a weekend of hiking, drugs and sex, Rick goes back for more. But Mike is strangely absent, and Jay spikes his drink. Rick he wakes up unsure of what happened. Three months later, he receives a videotape showing him being raped while unconscious. And Mike is still nowhere to be found.

Each of these three men sees the chain of events differently: Rick is confused and violated, Jay feels betrayed and abandoned, and Mike is a lost soul looking for either salvation or oblivion. These differing accounts might have more weight if Verow was better at continuity, as there are niggling problems all the way through each of the three versions. Mainly, it's the abrupt and awkward editing that's a problem, missing key aspects of the action. Several important stretches are wordless musical montages leading to various perspectives on a three-in-a-bed romp.

Despite an obviously low budget, with very few extras and only limited settings, the film is nicely shot and makes good use of the rural locations. The story starts strongly with a provocative, creepy sex scene, followed by the characters' strange meeting in the bar. But the narrative slows to a crawl when these three men get together. Verow guides us through the fractured timeline with on-screen date-stamps that remind us where we are. While the score hints that something dark might be going on here. So we wait for it.

The actors play their roles in an off-handed way that's relatively believable. But the odd lack of surrounding characters kind of undermines the serious issues the story raises then abandons about sexual violence and revenge. Nobody has friends or family to turn to, and there are no public officials who can help. So in the end, it kind of feels like a dark and twisted porn movie with the most explicit stuff cut out.

18 themes, sexuality, violence, drugs
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