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last update 20.Apr.14
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Almost Married
dir-scr Ben Cookson
prd Lionel Hicks
with Philip McGinley, Mark Stobbart, Emily Atack, Andy Wilkinson, Bill Fellows, Laura Norton, Janine Birkett, Allison Dean, Harvey Halfpenny, Sammy T Dobson, Ellie Fletcher, Tracey Wilkinson
release UK 28.Mar.14
14/UK 1h37
Almost Married Set in Newcastle, this scruffy comedy drags its one joke out far longer than strictly necessary. But after drifting around for the better part of an hour, things snap together for a witty and rather provocative climax, as it were.

Three months before his wedding, Kyle (McGinley) goes on an epic stag night with his best man Jarvis (Stobbart), including naked paintball and a brothel visit. So when Kyle learns that he has a sexually transmitted disease, he decides not to tell his fiancee Lydia (Atack) and makes up a series of excuses to avoid the bedroom. But holding this out until the definitive test in 90 days is difficult. And Jarvis is no help at thinking up believable excuses. Meanwhile, Lydia starts to doubt whether she wants to get married after all.

Yes, there are a couple of immediate problems here. First is why the stag night and ceremony rehearsal are three months before the wedding day (that's never explained). And the real problem isn't that Kyle contracted an STD, but that he's marrying a woman he can't be honest with. Filmmaker Cookson blithely ignores these things to get on with his cheerful, cheeky comedy. At least the likeable actors deliver realistic performances as complete idiots.

And each of these three main characters does something ridiculous or overreacts wildly to something that would be simple to deal with. Still, McGinley and Stobbart nicely play the bromance angle: Kyle and Jarvis seem to actually care about each other. And while no one bothers to ask the most blindingly obvious question until much later, there are at least some serious underlying themes that give the humour a bit of weight, from double standards to the limits of honesty in a relationship.

So it's annoying that Cookson allows the plot to scrabble around so maniacally in search of each gag, while the narrative never moves at all. In the final act, the film suddenly snaps to attention as everyone is forced to face facts and solve this mess, which involves a riotous dinner with Kyle and Lydia's parents (Wilkinson, Fellows, Birkett and Dean)as well as a corny encounter with the fateful hooker (Norton). But at least these scenes have a bit of bite.

15 themes, language, nudity
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dir-scr Shan Khan
prd Jason Newmark, Nisha Parti
with Paddy Considine, Aiysha Hart, Faraz Ayub, Shubham Saraf, Harvey Virdi, Nikesh Patel, Aaron Neil, William Ruane, Caitlin Joseph, Nick Chopping, Ben Bishop, Amiera Darwish
considine release UK 14.Apr.14
13/UK 1h44
Honour Writer-director Khan has considerable filmmaking skill and an urgent story to tell, but he seems to doubt his own material by splintering the narrative and ramping it up into an unconvincing gun-toting thriller. It's beautifully shot and very nicely performed by the cast, but the structure and plot simply don't engage.

When British-Pakistani estate agent Mona (Hart) decides to run off with her colleague-boyfriend Tanvir (Patel), her family is horrified that she's bringing dishonour to them. So her mother (Virdi) and older brother Kasim (Ayub) set in motion a plan to stop her, aided reluctantly by younger brother Adel (Saraf). And when Mona goes missing, they hire a bounty hunter (Considine) to find her. But he's having his own crisis of conscience after years as a racist thug.

David Higgs' sumptuous cinematography and Theo Green's moody score create a darkly intriguing atmosphere from the start, although the story is told out of sequence in a way that's so jarring that it seems like the reels are being projected in the wrong order. The story is set mainly in London, although there are glimpses of recognisable locations in Glasgow from time to time, and some scenes were shot on the Isle of Man, all of which adds to the film's disorienting structure and prevents us from getting properly involved with the characters.

And this is seriously annoying because the actors are all terrific, creating complex people even if the script continually tries to shove them into hero/villain roles. Hart's descent from confident professional woman to terrified victim is harrowing to watch, while Considine delivers one of his most layered performances with minimal signposting. Saraf is the other standout as a teen who is bullied into participating in something he so clearly detests about his family's culture.

The issue of honour killings is an important one, and filmmaker Khan is clearly up to the challenge. But he badly undermines this central theme by chopping up the story and adding a corny climactic shootout. So it's impossible to identify with anyone on screen, which makes it academic and preachy rather than provocative or involving. By the time the movie shifts into its overwrought final act, we only watch because the actors have created such vivid characters that we wonder what might happen to them.

15 themes, language, violence
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Jesus People
dir Jason Naumann
scr Dan Ewald, Rajeev Sigamoney, Dan Steadman
prd Dan Ewald, Jason Naumann, Rajeev Sigamoney
with Joel McCrary, Edi Patterson, Damon Pfaff, Richard Pierre-Louis, Lindsay Stidham, Karen Whipple, Chris Fennessy, Kevin Kirkpatrick, Nikki Boyer, Laura Silverman, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Mindy Sterling
stidham, Pfaff, Patterson, Pierre-Louis release US 11.Apr.14
14/US 1h28
Jesus People This hilariously astute Office-style reality documentary may have difficulty finding an audience. Set in America's evangelical Christian subculture, both nonbelievers and those who embrace evangelicalism may miss the joke. In other words, it's so packed with inside gags that it's essentially preaching to the choir.

Pastor Jerry (McCrary) is making a fly-on-the-wall documentary to show what it's like to be an evangelical. When he learns that he has an irreversible kidney condition, which he hides from his wife Mitzy (Whipple), he decides to start the Christian band Cross My Heart as an alternative to the pop music their teen son (Fennessy) likes. After meeting with disgraced singer Gloria (Patterson), Jerry stages a Heaven's Idol competition and finds over-keen Zak (Pfaff), beauty queen Cara (Stidham) and muscly black youth pastor Ty (Pierre-Louis), who doesn't want to be pigeonholed as a "rappist".

Witty and knowing, the film uses bone-dry humour and recognisably authentic people to play with real issues and poke fun at American society. The main target is the religious subculture, with specific attention paid to skewering the derivative Christian music industry (there's even a sharp Dove Awards gag). The cast plays it dead straight, delivering improv-style dialog without winking at the camera. And their dialog is hilarious if you're in on the joke.

There's also a non-stop parade of terrific characters, including Cara's snappy hairdresser mother (McLendon-Covey) and the worship leader (Laura Silverman) who wrote the much-loved song Jesus Jesus Jesus Jesus. Octavia Spencer even pops up as a YouTube sensation singing about her need for a good man. Of course, McCrary's kind but self-obsessed Jerry fails to notice that Mitzy might have real talent. And Pierre-Louis' Ty is the only person who sees how ludicrous this is.

On a wider scale, the film is a knowing pastiche of the media at large, as well as reality-TV amateurs with passion that exceeds their talent. Blinkered by religious beliefs and ignorant about music and promotion, they charge on regardless, adding a dance beat and editing Christianity out of their single to give it broader interest (so of course Christian radio stations reject it). Yes, the cast and crew delve into some wonderfully incorrect comedy. But if you get their jokes, you're not the problem.

PG themes, innuendo
9 Apr.14
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We Are the Freaks
dir-scr Justin Edgar
prd Justin Edgar, Alex Usborne
with Jamie Blackley, Mike Bailey, Sean Teale, Michael Smiley, Amber Anderson, Rosamund Hanson, Adam Gillen, Danielle Lineker, Hera Hilmar, Dominic Coleman, Sean Connolly, Jo Enright
teale and blackley release UK 25.Apr.14
13/UK 1h20

Edinburgh film fest
East End film fest
We Are the Freaks Filmmaker Edgar takes a fable-like approach the tale of a group of losers who have no real hope of making anything of their lives due to the class they're born into and the decisions they make. The artificial, self-aware style makes it difficult to engage with on any level, even as we admire the artistic flourishes and bright cast.

In 1990 Birmingham, 18-year-old Jack (Blackley) hopes to attend university to escape his dull family and awful job. But he needs a government grant to make that happen. His best pals are Parsons (Bailey), a nerdy nice guy with an awkward girlfriend (Hanson), and Chunks (Teale), a rich kid who's defiantly resisting expectations. Then they get a break: Jack meets smart-sexy musician Elinor (Anderson), and Chunks finds himself looking after the little brother (Gillen) of the girl (Hilmar) he likes. But their fate may be in the hands of a straight-talking drug dealer (Smiley).

The plot weaves together three storylines as Jack, Parsons and Chunks take intersecting odysseys over one long night. Although without a real beginning, middle or end, it's more of a collection of random mini-adventures. Jack's primary discovery is that his dream woman isn't perfect. After a nasty sexual incident, Parsons gets finally stands up to his demanding parents. And Chunks has a jolt that may spur him to take responsibility for his actions.

But writer-director Edgar deliberately refuses to dig beneath the surface of the wacky antics, undermining his story by indulging in surreal plot points as the characters speak to the camera (in his self-referential opening rant Jack even says, "I hate it when people in movies talk to the camera"). These things throw us out of the situations, even as the bright young cast add spark to their roles.

The comical approach ignores all emotional undercurrents: nothing is made of the relationship between these three guys, and their tentative romances feel like non-starters. Still, Edgar demonstrates considerable skill with the camera and editing, cleverly using lighting and colour to make every scene pop visually. This might feel excessive even in a short feature, but it shows true artistry as a filmmaker. If Edgar can get his storytelling skills up to a similar level, he will be a filmmaker to watch.

15 themes, language, violence, drugs, sexuality
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