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last update 10.Aug.14
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All This Mayhem
dir Eddie Martin
prd James Gay-Rees, Eddie Martin, George Pank
with Tas Pappas, Ben Pappas, Dom Kekich, Greg Stewart, Bill Weiss, Henry Sanchez, Danny Minnick, Lance Conklin, Tommy Caudill
tas and ben
release Aus Jun.14 sff,
UK 8.Aug.14
14/Australia 1h36
All This Mayhem A documentary about two of the most notorious skating champions in the sport's history, this film tells a startlingly tough story about the dark side of success. Unsurprising since it's Australian, it reveals the details with unflinching honesty and a hint of black humour. But it's pretty grim stuff.

In the early 1990s, Australian teens took to skateboarding to emulate the skills of the world-leading Americans. Tas Pappas and his little brother Ben were especially fearless, rising through the local ranks and making the jump to the USA at age 16, where they immediately entered a world of girls and drugs. Then at the top of their career, at numbers one and two in the world, having unseated their nemesis Tony Hawk from the throne, everything fell apart due to their irresponsible spending and rampant drug abuse.

Because much of skating culture involves capturing routines on videotape, there's extensive archival footage of Tas and Ben through the years, and it's astonishing to watch them evolve from weedy kids to muscly teens, then waste away into bloated junkies. Not that their trajectories are linear: both bounce from success to squalor and back again. And the fact that only Tas lived to tell the tale adds an extra level of resonance to his account.

Despite a repetitive narrative that drags on a bit, the film is extremely well-assembled, letting the interviewees (and archive material from Ben) tell the story with unusual candour. No one tries to downplay either the financial chaos or the drug scene, although the absence of commentary from their skating star cohort Danny Way and their arch-rival Hawk leaves it feeling somewhat incomplete. And perhaps a bit of context could have been provided with input from a journalist, especially since everyone clearly blames the skating industry for the Pappas' exclusion from events and ultimate fall from grace.

But even if the film wallows in the Pappas brothers' tragic story, it also manages to capture the sheer joy of skating at the top level of competition. Watching the brothers perform one astonishing trick after another, it's clear that they were skating for the love of it rather than to become rich and famous. Although they clearly enjoyed the trappings of success, which were ultimately their undoing. Thankfully, the filmmakers resist forcing the cautionary message, although it can't help but come through loud and clear.

15 themes, language
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Beyond Clueless
dir-scr Charlie Lyne
prd Billy Boyd Cape, Anthony Ing, Charlie Lyne
narr Fairuza Balk
with Lindsay Lohan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julia Styles, Natasha Lyonne, Freddie Prinze, Amanda Seyfried, Ryan Philippe, Katie Holmes, Justin Long, Marlon Wayans, Tobey Maguire, Britney Spears
Beyond Clueless release US Mar.14 sxsw,
UK 8.Aug.14
14/UK 1h29

Beyond Clueless An exploration of the American coming-of-age teen movie in the decade after 1995's Clueless, this collage-style documentary uses clips from virtually every high school movie imaginable. Even if it never resonates on a personal level, it's assembled with a gorgeous sense of pacing, smart observations and revelatory conclusions.

During this decade, teen movies used genres from comedy to horror to tell stories about the clash between high school subcultures like nerds, jocks, burnouts, artists and of course mean girls. Teens draw strength from friends, and a lone wolf is always a threat to the herd. The rites of passage over the four years to graduation include dances, beer parties, facing up to peer pressure, sexual awakening and confronting mortality. But ultimately, everyone has to make the journey on his or her own.

Writer-director Lyne breaks the journey into five chapters: fitting in (becoming a maverick or conformist), acting out (breaking the rules), losing yourself (working out your true identity), toeing the line (enforced obedience) and moving on (escaping teen routines to become an adult). Fortunately, this academic thesis plays out through lively scenes from an astonishing array of movies, from iconic hits like I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and Mean Girls (2004) to such lesser-known gems as Idle Hands (1999) and Slap Her She's French (2002) to cult classics like The Doom Generation (1995) and Ginger Snaps (2000).

But this is an exploration of cinematic views of adolescence, not real life, even as the formulaic plotlines often reflect reality. Balk's narration is packed with clever observations that probe the deeper meanings behind each clip, finding intriguing parallels. And this is where Lyne's expert editing really shines, as he juxtaposes scenes with knowing wit, especially in frequent montages highlighting key events like arriving at school or attending the prom.

All of this sometimes feels rather insistent, pulsating with Summer Camp's swelling score to imply a connection with the viewer. But while most of us grew up with movies about adolescence, no one actually grew up in one. So despite a whiff of authenticity, this depiction of teen years is pure fantasy. In the end, as students are united by their journey by graduating from high school, older viewers know that the idea that they can finally embrace their individuality is pure fiction.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Dinosaur 13
dir-prd Todd Douglas Miller
with Peter Larson, Neal L Larson, Susan Hendrickson, Terry Wentz, Kristin Donnan, Louie Psihoyos, Patrick Duffy, Bruce Ellison, Philip Manning, Philip J Currie, Vincent Santucci, Bill Harlan
the team
release US Jan.14 sff,
UK 15.Aug.14
14/US 1h45

sundance london festival
Dinosaur 13 This shocking true story of a deep injustice is told in a straightforward way that can't help but get the blood boiling. It's the tale of a handful of people whose genuine triumph is stolen by a meddling government and greedy neighbours. And it reveals a whole industry we never knew existed.

In August 1990, palaeontologist Susan Hendrickson discovered the fossilised remains of a T-rex named "Sue" in rural South Dakota, along with colleagues Peter and Neal Larson and Terry Wentz. They purchased the rights from the landowner for a record $5,000, then spent a year getting the fossil ready to exhibit in their nearby small-town museum. Before they finished, FBI agents raided their office and confiscated Sue. Over the next seven years lawyers argued about who owned the fossil, and prosecutors went even further, drumming up criminal charges against the palaeontologists.

Before Sue, none of the previous 12 T-rex fossils had been more than 40 percent complete. But Sue is 80 percent, and ended up fetching $7.6m at auction for the greedy people who seized her. Meanwhile, these poor cutting-edge fossil-hunters had their lives needlessly derailed by a series of astonishingly unfair charges. The film tells this story chronologically, letting each person narrate the events as they unfolded, along with extensive stills and home-movies, plus some beautifully shot new footage and re-enactments.

The film looks gorgeous, not only capturing the majestic Badlands landscape, but also making Sue a vivid character in her own story. Watching fossils take shape from buried stones into a full-size Tyrannosaurus rex is amazing. And the film's most inspiring aspect is the dedication and tenacity of these rural palaeontologists who are passionate about dinosaurs. Peter felt so strongly about Sue that he kept an eye on, and spoke to, her container throughout the legal wrangling.

Yes, this documentary tells a hugely involving story about a little guy pushed around by the system. Director-producer-editor Miller never gets flashy, avoiding the temptation to show us Sue in all her animated glory. Instead he focusses on the people on both sides of the case, as well as the crowds in the tiny town (population 535) who staged a series of "Free Sue" events to bring their prehistoric resident home. And this focus on human compassion, even in the face of such injustice, makes us feel like maybe there's hope for the future.

U themes
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The Galápagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
dir Dan Geller, Dayna Goldfine
scr-prd Dayna Goldfine, Dan Geller, Celeste Schaefer Snyder
with Rolf Wittmer, Fritz Hieber, Carmen Kubler Angermeyer, Jacqueline De Roy, Friedel Horneman, Teppy Angermeyer, Octavio Latorre, Jose Machuca
voices Cate Blanchett, Thomas Kretschmann, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen, Sebastian Koch, Josh Radnor, Gustaf Skarsgard
dore and friedrich release US 4.Apr.14,
UK 25.Jul.14
13/Germany 2h01

The Galapagos Affair A riveting account of a real-life mystery, this documentary makes terrific use of archival material, unveiling a complex story that screams to become a dramatic feature. Even if the filmmakers pad things out with unrelated sideroads, this is an unnervingly astute exploration of human nature. It's also a fascinating look at earth's most astonishing environment.

To escape from society's constraints, Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch (voiced by Kretschmann and Blanchett) leave their respective spouses in 1929 Berlin and set up camp on the isolated Galapagos island of Floreana, off the coast of Ecuador. After their letters home are given to newspapers, which sensationalise their Adam and Eve lifestyle, Margret and Heinz Wittmer (Kruger and Koch) join them with their family. Friedrich and Dore reluctantly agree to share the island, but problems arise with the arrival of the self-proclaimed Baroness Von Wagner (Nielsen) and her two boyfriends.

The film opens with a collage of newspaper clippings and newsreel footage breathlessly reporting an unsolved triple murder on Floreana. This cleverly adds underlying suspense as tensions build between the island residents, revealed in photos, home movies and extensive letters and diary entries from the people themselves. Filmmakers Geller and Goldfine construct the whodunit piece-by-piece, adding imagery from the islands today, including interviews with present-day residents and historians Latorre and Machuca.

Some of these cutaway interviews feel distracting, as not all of their stories relate back to the central mystery. But they do offer a glimpse of life in this tiny community, especially from those who were born there, including the Wittmers' son Rolf. Other recollections focus on Friedrich's obsession with the humanity-rejecting teachings of Nietzsche, ignoring Goethe's warning that you can't leave civilisation without being punished. Yes, there's plenty of irony in this story of people rejecting possessions then becoming hugely possessive of "their" island.

Geller and Goldfine have a great eye for detail, for example subtly linking the interaction of iguanas to humans. They also highlight the kinds of people who would move to a place like this, and what it would be like to grow up here. But the fact is that none of the interviewees have a clue what actually happened on Floreana. Not that the solution matters. This is a riveting reminder that there's no such thing as paradise: wherever you go, you take your problems with you.

12 themes, language, some grisliness
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