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last update 16.Jul.14
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Earth to Echo
dir Dave Green
scr Henry Gayden
prd Ryan Kavanaugh, Andrew Panay
with Brian 'Astro' Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Teo Halm, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford, Virginia Louise Smith, Cassius Willis, Sonya Leslie, Peter Mackenzie, Valerie Wildman, Myk Watford, Mary Pat Gleason
halm, bradley, wahlestedt and hartwig release US 2.Jul.14,
UK 25.Jul.14
14/US Relativity 1h38
Earth to Echo Anyone over about 12 will find this film difficult to sit through: not only is it made with queasy hand-held camerawork, but it's little more than a superficial mash-up of E.T., Stand by Me and The Goonies. The filmmakers admit that this was their goal, but they forgot that what makes those classics so memorable is the way they never talk down to their audience.

Because of a new freeway, a community in rural Nevada is forced to relocate, shattering the friendship between three 13-year-olds. Tuck (Bradley) decides to document their last night together, as he, Munch and Alex (Hartwig and Halm) investigate mysterious interference on their phones, following a map out into the desert. There they discover a chunk of metal that leads them on a scavenger hunt for spare parts, eventually blossoming into an owl-like robotic alien they name Echo. Joined by hot girl Emma (Wahlestedt), these teens must outwit a scientist (Gray-Stanford) to help Echo get home.

It's impossible to know whether these young actors have any skill, as Green directs them to over-stated performances. And Gayden's trite dialog doesn't help. Scenes are so pushy that any sense of discovery is smothered. These boys are clearly meant to be outcasts at school, nerds with issues who bond together to face the challenge, but it's so carefully constructed that nothing is plausible, especially when mean-girl Emma suddenly becomes desperate to join their club.

And then there are those wobbly cameras. It's a nice idea that Tuck is documenting their amazing experience because adults would never believe them, but it's very difficult to watch. And this also adds to the contrived tone because Tuck manages to capture everything in carefully choreographed ways while in a perpetual state of panic, including a corny interlude in which he has a falling out with Alex.

With some striking visual effects, the film looks good enough that young or undemanding viewers won't mind the formulaic plot, thinly developed characters and over-written dialog. They also may not mind that Echo is a painfully adorable creature with massive eyes, so why are these mean old scientists planning to do nasty experiments on him? But Green and Gayden seem to have forgotten that E.T. isn't cute, the boys of Stand by Me have full inner lives and The Goonies face genuine peril.

PG themes, brief violence
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dir Mark Lamprell
scr Mark Lamprell, Joanna Weinberg
prd Andrena Finlay, Richard Keddie
with Laura Michelle Kelly, Ronan Keating, Magda Szubanski, Dustin Clare, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Cameron Lyon, Lucy Durack, Celia Ireland, Tamsin Carroll, Natalie Tran, Pia Miranda, Corinne Grant
kelly release Aus 14.Mar.13,
US Apr.14 nbiff, UK 4.Jul.14
13/Australia 1h44
Goddess Real relationship issues ground this fluffy musical-comedy, adding resonance beneath the silliness. It's the story of a woman who gets her big chance but has to decide how much she's willing to give up for fame and fortune. But the tonal swings from zany slapstick to heartrending soul-searching feel a bit contrived.

In the Tasmanian countryside, Elspeth (Kelly) is managing her tearaway young twins (Levi and Phoenix Morrison) while her husband Jimmy (Keating) studies whales in Antarctica. Far from their friends back home in Britain, Elspeth takes refuge in writing songs about her life. And when she sets up a domestic goddess webcam blog so Jimmy can see her, she catches the eye of corporate shark Cassandra (Szubanski) who wants to brand her to promote a computer line. But this means she'll have to leave her boys with a sitter (Ireland) so she can work in Sydney.

The story feels like a rant against the pressures of motherhood, as Elspeth strains against her responsibilities even though it's the life she always wanted. The incredibly kind and gorgeous Jimmy helps as much as he can. But Elspeth's behaviour is startlingly self-involved, and it becomes painfully clear this is the lesson the screenwriters want her to learn. There are also the standard plot wrinkles as Elspeth meets, Once-style, a charming Sydney busker (Clare), while Jimmy is tempted by a younger, hotter babysitter (Durack).

None of this feels realistic. Especially the continual clips of people chortling to Elspeth's webcast, which is cute but not remotely funny. The sparky songs take us into Elspeth's energetic thoughts, even if cinematic flourishes undermine the webcam aesthetic. At least stage star Kelly is bubbly and adorable, while Szubanski has a terrific scene-stealing turn, including the film's big show-stopper. By contrast, the thankless men are merely charming and handsome, on hand only to make Elspeth's decision more difficult.

Even so, there are some intriguing ideas raised here, such as the strains of long-distance relationships or the dangers of getting everything you want. There are also terrific musical sequences, snappy dialog and genuinely touching moments. Plus a clever pastiche of reality TV as Elspeth's neighbours become addicted to her on-screen life. But everything is so relentlessly simplistic (the ultimate message is that life is complicated) that the film feels eerily naive.

12 themes, language
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Love Me Till Monday
dir Justin Hardy
prd Jack Fishburn, Muireann Price
scr Jack Fishburn, Justin Hardy, Muireann Price
with Georgia Maguire, Tim Plester, Royce Pierreson, Sarah Jayne Butler, Sarah Barratt, Christopher Leveaux, Charlotte Gallagher, Ludo Hardy, Tyler Gayle, Bennett Warden, Anneli Page, Joseph Olivennes
pleaster and maguire release UK 11.Jul.14
13/UK 1h33

london film festival
Love Me Till Monday Loose and relatively unstructured, this British romantic-comedy doesn't follow the usual formula in its story about a young woman looking for "the one". It's nicely played, but takes a somewhat haphazard approach to some big themes. So it feels almost like a school project made by people with little life experience.

At a marketing company in Reading, 25-year-old Becky (Maguire) feels like she can't quite get things started in her life. She worries about being made redundant, even though her boss Steve (Plester) clearly likes her. And she has a crush on a colleague (Pierreson) who may or may not be having a fling with the office maneater (Barratt). Through a series of work-related parties and nights out, Becky wonders who her ideal man really is. Meanwhile at home she's watching her 11-year-old brother Olly (Hardy) while their mother is on a long holiday.

This script is tightly focussed on the idea that Becky must have a boyfriend to complete her life. There's never even a hint that she might be better off concentrating on sorting herself out before latching onto a man. So her various flirtations and liaisons are treated as be-alls rather than youthful exploration. All of this is rather deeply offensive, even if Becky's played with plucky charm by newcomer Maguire as an attractive young woman who juggles every aspect of her life with admirable efficiency.

Meanwhile, the men are charming and seductive, each offering to become her dream man before revealing that their chief interest is more superficial. Both Plester and Pierreson, and to a lesser degree Leveaux (in a smaller office-colleague role), give strong performances in this sense, revealing more complex characters than expected. The supporting actresses have much simpler roles: fierce (Barratt), needy (Butler's overdramatic receptionist), condescending (Gallagher as a friend visiting from London).

Director-cowriter Hardy shoots the film mainly with handheld cameras, creating a relaxed, low-budget look that's given some weight by a dense score of indie songs. But while the film feels simplistic, it captures that sense of limbo all young professionals feel, as well as the real struggle to find a meaningful relationship. And the filmmakers deserve credit for making a strong movie on a microscopic budget, as well as for making a rom-com that resolutely resists every cliche of the genre.

15 themes, language
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dir-scr Chris Mason Johnson
prd Chris Mason Johnson, Chris Martin
with Scott Marlowe, Matthew Risch, Evan Boomer, Kevin Clarke, Kristoffer Cusick, Rory Hohenstein, Damon Sperber, Myles Thatcher, Katherine Wells, Sergio Benvindo, Madison Kessler, Andre Matthieu
release US Jun.13 fff,
UK 28.Jul.14
13/US 1h29

Test Set in 1985 San Francisco, this involving drama captures a brief period in time with sharp introspection, focusing on characters who aren't sure how to react to the advent of Aids and HIV infection. Although in many ways the film works better as an internal journey than as an Aids drama, its strong physicality is haunting.

Frankie (Marlowe) is a young dancer who freaks out when he thinks he has a cold. After all, that's how Aids began for Rock Hudson! His muscly fellow dancer Todd (Risch) is more outgoing and matter-of-fact about sex, and he also encourages Frankie to go after his dream to dance lead in an upcoming performance. As they negotiate the twisted paths of career and romance, they hear that there's a new test for HIV infection, and each has to overcome his fears to find out his status.

Beautifully shot, this story is so locked in its time and place that it's tricky to see the relevance today, and filmmaker Johnson sometimes gets preachy about safe-sex. But he also keeps everything grounded and natural, letting the actors' faces say more than the dialog. And the dance milieu adds a terrific physicality. There are also some rather obscure artistic touches, such as Frankie's attempts to keep mice out of his flat, eventually capturing one as a pet.

But the steady stream of emotion is easy to identify with, as young men who seem to have all of life ahead of them confront their possible mortality. They're understandably paranoid about their health, and it's easy to sympathise with Frankie's first visit to his doctor, at which he can't bring himself to mention Aids. Meanwhile, the city is awash in open hatred, with angry graffiti, verbal and physical violence, and headlines about quarantining gays on an island.

Intriguingly, writer-director Johnson puts the film's passion and sensuality into the dancing, which is bold and intriguing. Sex scenes are far more hesitant and awkward until the men finally start being honest with each other and discussing issues like condoms and monogamy, which is perhaps the real test. Johnson also does a great job creating the period while coaxing the actors to performances that are warm and intimate. The film may have a too-strong sense of its own importance, but it also has a lot to say.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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