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last update 4.May.14
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Bad Johnson
dir Huck Botko
scr Jeff Tetreault
prd Reid Brody, Danny Roman, Bill Ryan
with Cam Gigandet, Nick Thune, Jamie Chung, Katherine Cunningham, Kevin Miller, Kiley B Moore, Katie Riccio, James R Doherty, Cory Kahane, Jessica Joy, Rammel Chan, Holly Houk
gigandet, miller and thune release US 2.May.14
14/US 1h28
Bad Johnson While this high-concept gross-out rom-com has just about enough charm to make it watchable, it's also trite, with strong whiffs of misogyny and racism. Although to be fair, the film hates men just as much as it hates women. All of that might have made the movie provocative if the filmmaking wasn't so clunky.

After rampant womaniser Rich (Gigandet) is kneed by an angry ex, his doctor orders him to avoid sex for six weeks. He immediately meets Jamie (Chung) and manages to wait, but just before his big night with her he slips up, and she throws him out. Unable to accept the responsibility, he blames his penis for his troubles. And when he wakes up the next day, his genitalia have become a separate scruffy jerk (Thune). Rich turns to fellow gym trainer Josh (Miller) for help, but maybe he'll need to learn to live like this.

A lazy script and simplistic direction make it difficult to just go with the silly premise, but there are decent scenes along the way and some witty dialog. This just about lets the actors create entertaining characters, although Botko directs them to painfully broad performances that make them both implausible and unlikeable. Thune can just about get away with this because he's playing a reprehensible goofball.

Gigandet does his best to make Rich likeable, even though his transformation from full-on monster to thoughtful nice guy is far too sudden. But even when he manages to find something interesting in a scene, the film abandons him to another cheap gag or platitude. Of course he'll learn his lesson and be reunited with his man-parts. Meanwhile, the script has no idea what to do with its female characters, although at least Cunningham (as a new love interest) provides a nice spark of chemistry.

But for a film with so much rude material, it's annoyingly squeamish about sex. You'd think that a writer and director working with this premise wouldn't be this ludicrously terrified of the male anatomy. Instead, they fall back on the easiest preachy morality as the story heads to an appallingly ill-conceived final confrontation. But worst of all is that the script's simplistic approach to love and sex seems to indicate that screenwriter Tetreault has no experience in either.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence, drugs
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dir-scr Stacie Passon
prd Rose Troche
with Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Julie Fain Lawrence, Janel Moloney, Laila Robins, Emily Kinney, Tracee Chimo, Daniel London, Ben Shenkman, Maren Shapero, Micah Shapero
release US 4.Oct.13,
UK 16.May.14
13/US 1h36

bfi flare
Concussion A 42-year-old woman embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery in this sharply observed drama. Watching her work out what she really wants in life is fascinating because the screenplay never falls back on glib moralising. And even if the story feels a little vague, it's a complex, engaging, bracingly honest film.

After a blow to the head in a playground game, Abby (Weigert) begins feeling fed up with the kids and more acutely senses the distance from her workaholic lawyer wife Kate (Lawrence). She opens up about this to her home-decorator colleague Justin (Tchaikovsky), who suggests that if she wants anonymous sex she could sell her services. So she decides to give it a go, adopting the name Eleanor and insisting that her clients meet her in a cafe before anything else happens. Then her acquaintance Sam (Siff) hires her, and things take an unexpected turn.

The film has a gently comical tone, with acerbic humour that gives each scene an insinuating undertone. Many of these sequences are so beautifully played that they stop us in our tracks. Characters are continually doing things they probably shouldn't, but they simply can't resist exploring the possibility to improve the coherence of their lives. This makes it impossible to remain passive while watching: even if we can't imagine making these choices ourselves, the way the story unfolds forces us to think about the implications.

Weigert gives a remarkably sensitive performance as Abby, a woman who prefers real intimacy over random physicality, so builds relationships with her clients that go far beyond the sex. Most intriguing is the way Weigert gives Abby a clear sense of her own transgressive behaviour, revealing the guilt beneath the yearning, which remains precariously focussed on Kate. And Lawrence's Kate is never a villain; she's merely distracted by her own pressures. Around them, the surrounding performances have the same strong ring of truth.

In addition to the sensitive, observant script, filmmaker Passon directs with an eye for telling detail. This makes everyone on-screen feel like a real person with his or her own inner lives, each with a specific impact on impacts Abby's central journey. It's a remarkably grown-up look at how desires shift and change as we enter middle age. And best of all, Passon refuses to offer easy answers.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Bruno & Earlene Go to Vegas
dir-scr-prd Simon Savory
with Miles Szanto, Ashleigh Sumner, Barrett Crake, Antony Cherrie, Ross William Wild, Eileen Hertz, Phillip Evelyn, Clarissa Thibeaux, Barbie-Q, Janice Danielle, Cassandra Peterson, Greg Travis
sumner, crake and szanto release UK 28.Apr.14
13/UK 1h33

east end film fest
Bruno & Earlene Go to Vegas From a first-time British filmmaker, this ramshackle romp across the American Southwest is a remarkably involving exploration of the idea that change finds you. Centring on characters who are just trying to make it to tomorrow, the film resonates in every scene.

Impulsive Earlene (Sumner) has just left her life behind, fleeing to Venice Beach, where she meets Bruno (Szanto), who's been illicitly staying in someone's empty home and now has two cops (Evelyn and Thibeaux) on his tail. Since he's always wanted to see Paris, Earlene offers to drive him to Las Vegas to see the Eiffel Tower. Taking the back roads, they team up with sexy toy boy Billy (Crake) and meet an oddball community at a saloon in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps making it to Vegas isn't the most important thing after all.

The film is shot and edited with a real sense of style, from the gorgeous desert vistas to the moody faces of the actors. Packed with telling touches that add to the film's mood, it's a nice mix of snappy montages and long-take conversations. So even if some of the romantic developments feel a little vague or predictable, at least we never know what kind of messy twist is coming in the next scene.

The solid cast is loose and realistic, making the most of the space within the scenes. Even when it's not clear how or why they go from place to place, their emotional journey is involving. Szanto is especially strong as Bruno, a young Aussie guy still coming to terms with his own identity as a chimera, both male and female in one body. Which isn't made any easier by the fact that his parents could never cope with it either. Earlene's personal issues are a little more opaque.

The film is an exploration of the need for acceptance, especially if we live on the fringe of society. Writer-director Savory relies a bit too often on the old chestnut "I've just woken up and have no idea how I got here", which leaves the narrative feeling underwritten. But there are interesting things happening between all of the characters, each of whom is dealing with his/her/their unique sexuality. And with its open-hearted approach to such a variety of characters, the film feels like a blast of fresh air.

15 themes, language, some violence
16.Jun.13 eeff
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dir-scr Rob Moretti
prd Sean Paul Lockhart, Ashley Ahn, Rob Moretti
with Sean Paul Lockhart, Rob Moretti, Blanche Baker, Suzanne Didonna, Rebekah Aramini, Philip Joseph McElroy, Max Rhyser, John Van Steen, Trisha Sinnett, Taylor Mollica, Timothy Gulick, Rob Fattorini
lockhart and moretti release US 11.Feb.14,
UK 26.May.14
13/US 1h34
Truth This extremely slow-burning psychological thriller explores the dark side of parental abuse and mental illness. The filmmaking may be rather tentative and preachy, but the central characters are nicely played, even if the atmospheric approach continually signposts an escalating tale of doom and gloom.

In prison, Caleb (Lockhart) recounts his story to a shrink (Baker), talking about meeting Jeremy (Moretti) on a gay-dating phone app and falling in love before they've had time much to find out anything about each other. And both have secrets: Caleb is hiding his past, which involves a mentally unstable mother (Didonna), while Jeremy is a recovering addict who's been sober for 15 years and also has mother issues. But their relationship deepens over the following months. Until Caleb goes off his meds and makes another discovery.

With issues like this gurgling throughout the script, the over-serious directorial tone tips several scenes over into corny melodrama. Still, the film remains tender and sensuous, with an introspective focus on the characters. Slow pacing saps the narrative of most of its momentum until things begin turning dark and nasty. But a few comical moments help, such as when Caleb freaks Jeremy out about his love of huge spiders. But even this scene is tinged with underlying menace, as are the romantic moments that follow.

Through all of this some of the supporting actors are allowed to get a bit hammy. But the tightly coiled Lockhart and nice-guy Moretti are solid in the central roles, nicely underplaying their likeable but shadowy characters. Indeed, director Moretti's insists on building a sense of impending tragedy, which begins to feel like a moralising sermon about the dangers of online dating: you never really know who you're meeting! Cue another swelling surge of background orchestration.

Where this deepens is in its exploration of mental illness, offering Lockhart an unusually strong character to play: a young guy tormented by the dark corners of his own mind. In this sense, Moretti's acting is more reactive, while Baker and Didonna's broader performances can be interpreted as being seen through Caleb's somewhat disturbed perspective. But the story is compelling enough to hold the attention as the final act plays out in twisty, surprising ways.

18 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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