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last update 17.Aug.14
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dir Scott Schirmer
scr Todd Rigney, Scott Schirmer
prd Leya Taylor, Damien Wesner
with Gavin Brown, Ethan Philbeck, Phyllis Munro, Louie Lawless, Alex Kogin, Andy Alphonse, Kitsie Duncan, Kate Braun, Eddie Jackson, Adrian Cox-Thurmond, Shane Beasley, Angela Denton
brown and pgilbeck release US 15.Aug.14,
UK 13.Oct.14
13/US 1h43
Goddess Filmmaker Schirmer makes a valiant attempt to obscure his low budget with some moody style, but he's not quite up to the challenge. Based on a novel by cowriter Rigney, this is an intriguing hybrid of a sensitive coming-of-age movie and a hyper-violent thriller. And the story shows real promise as it spirals into some very, very dark places. Genre fans will love it.

When 12-year-old Marty (Brown) finds the head of "another black woman" in his big brother Steve's (Philbeck) bowling bag, he tells no one. Their parents (Munro and Lawless) are oblivious, and mistake Marty drawing grisly graphic novels as an obsession with violence. Actually he's using this as an outlet after being violently bullied at school by Marcus (Jackson). Then things take a turn for the worse when Steve realises that Marty knows his secret. And Marcus' head ends up in that bowling bag. Surely Steve would never hurt his little brother.

Shirmer does a nice job of getting inside Marty's head, playing up the contrast between the boredom of everyday pre-teen life and his inner horror-movie thoughts. The whole movie is told from Marty's point of view, and Brown is excellent, a thoughtful kid who hates violence but is oddly drawn to it in books and movies. It's a seriously demanding role, especially in the intense final act. And most of the the actors around him add complexity to a movie that sometimes looks a bit cheap.

Even as it draws the audience in, the movie suffers from awkward direction and slack editing. Some characters are mere caricatures, leaving some of the actors looking amateurish and overwrought. And the insipid music feels utterly generic, especially as it's also heard in the cheesy horror movies Marty rents from his video shop (Headless seems like hideously nasty fun, but Deep Dwellers looks just awful). At least the grisly make-up effects are impressive.

Thankfully, there are also some genuinely heartfelt moments that elicit strong sympathy for Marty, especially as the film touches on pungent issues like homophobia, misogyny and racism. So as Marty begins to stand up against authority (and Steve takes his side), the grim possibilities send proper chills down the spine. Thankfully, the film's singular perspective protects Marty and us from the worst of it. But it's still utterly horrifying.

18 themes, language, grisly violence, sexuality
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God Help the Girl
dir-scr Stuart Murdoch
prd Barry Mendel
with Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, Pierre Boulanger, Cora Bisset
murray, alexander and browning release US Jan.14 sff,
UK 22.Aug.14
14/UK 1h51

God Help the Girl The tone of this romantic musical is so weightless that at times the film doesn't seem to exist. It just bounces lightly through the air with pithy observations and high-pitched pop tunes, then suddenly becomes dark and thoughtful before soaring into another musical number. It's rather wonderful, but tricky to get a grip on.

Eve (Browning) is being treated in a Glasgow mental hospital for what seems to be an addiction to creating music. One day she manages to escape, meeting young singer-guitarist James (Alexander) at a gig and following him home. As they become friends, he helps her get a job and they begin creating music together with his student Cassie (Murray). Meanwhile, Eve gets distracted by the sexy lead singer Anton (Boulanger) of a rival band, Hannah flirts with every man she meets, and James wonders if he'll ever have a chance with someone like Eve.

This is a film about possibilities, as these three young people look at how life is coming into line ahead of them, wondering if it will encourage or crush their artistic passions. Right from the opening shot, Browning bursts into song, addressing the lyrics straight to the camera lens while offering plot details and exposing her inner feelings. As she draws James and Hannah into her musical existence, the story progresses while the songs take on extra weight with added musicians, bouncier beats and deeper emotions.

Browning gives another bravely full-bodied performance as the doll-like Eve, who begins to realise that her real problem is that she can't accept the fact that she has to grow up. Her chemistry with Alexander is lively and sparky, and their music gels intriguingly (she's like Ellie Goulding to his Ed Sheeran). So Murray's Cassie can't help but add wrinkles to both their interaction and their songs. And when all three work together, they make a terrific triple-act.

Writer-director Murdoch is the lead singer of the Glasgow band Belle and Sebastian, which composed the film's songs for their next album. As a filmmaker Murdoch shows a natural gift for weaving music into every aspect of a film, specifically this young woman's life. This allows these rising-star actors to shine in roles that are far different from the usual rom-com characters. For that alone the film is worth a look. And while its light mood keeps a smile on our faces, it's the darker passages that get under the skin.

15 themes, language
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The Inbetweeners 2
dir-scr Damon Beesley, Iain Morris
prd Spencer Millman
with Simon Bird, James Buckley, Blake Harrison, Joe Thomas, Emily Berrington, Freddie Stroma, Tamla Kari, Jessica Knappett, Belinda Stewart-Wilson, Greg Davies, David Schaal, Daisy Ridley buckley, thomas, bird and harrison release UK 6.Aug.14
14/UK Film4 1h36
The Inbetweeners 2 There's just about enough charm in this movie to carry the audience along, even if the script runs out of ideas in the middle of just about every scene. But then, these characters are all about the set-up, followed by withering embarrassment. So fans will enjoy this more cinematic turn of events, which follows these four hapless idiots to the Outback and beyond.

Life after high school hasn't lived up to the hype. For Will (Bird), a lonely first year at university is only barely livened up by a visit from chucklehead pals Simon and Neil (Thomas and Harrison). Then they hear from Jay (Buckley), who's on a gap year in Australia. Tapping their school loans, Will, Simon and Neil head to Sydney, where things aren't quite as exciting as Jay led them to believe. So they follow Katie (Berrington) and her middle-class hippy friends to Byron Bay, which isn't much better. Then it's on to the Outback.

The TV series and first film played on the idea that these dorks are caught between being children and adults, but there's a sense that creators Beasley and Morris are afraid to let them grow up even a little. When they're playing with the fact that reality never resembles the imagined fantasy, the filmmakers and actors strike a nerve that's genuinely awkward and sometimes hilarious. But the script continually hedges its bets, reverting to the standard excretory gag for a punchline.

At least the set-pieces include an amusing sense of drama, from a queasy water-slide joke to some mortality-confronting while stranded in the desert. And the four lead actors have considerable charisma, even if they're dimwits who are incapable of learning anything about themselves or the world around them. By now these characters are second-nature, so the actors have both impeccable timing and an easy likability, despite being unable to generate even a hint of interest in any of the plot points.

So the romantic story threads play second fiddle to the four-way bromance, although even here the filmmakers leave the characters stuck in their teenage angst when a more grown-up approach would have been both funnier and much more involving. Frankly, there are plenty of places these characters can go, but only if Beesley and Morris can break free of their juvenile views on sex and adulthood and really throw the characters in with the bigger fish.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Welcome to New York
dir Abel Ferrara
prd Adam Folk
scr Abel Ferrara, Chris Zois
with Gerard Depardieu, Jacqueline Bisset, Marie Moute, Pamela Afesi, Nikki James, Paul Calderon, Paul Hipp, Shanyn Leigh, Amy Ferguson, JD Taylor, Caroline Huet, Chris Zois
bisset and depardieu release UK 8.Aug.14
14/US 2h04

Welcome to New York With a story inspired by a notorious court case, this cheekily fictional film imagines the backstage drama with unflinching relish. Indeed, the actors dive in so fully that many scenes aren't very easy to watch. But as an exploration of the corrupting influence of privilege and power, it's utterly riveting.

Devereaux (Depardieu) is a top executive at the World Bank whose life is a blur of prostitutes and sex parties until he sexually assaults a maid (Afesi) at his five-star Manhattan hotel. Oblivious to why there's a problem with this, he turns to his wealthy wife Simone (Bisset) for help, and she begrudgingly abandons her charity work to rent a house for them in New York and stand by his side along with his daughter Sophie (Moute). But Devereaux remains unrepentant, sure that his connections and money will get him off.

This is a shocking depiction of a man who is so self-involved that he can't begin to understand why something he has done could ever hurt another person. His whole life has always been about doing whatever he wants, and he's certainly not going to stop and think about consequences now. The corpulent Depardieu never hedges his bets in his performance: it's brave, astonishingly full-on and often very disturbing, especially in a key scene when he mauls a journalist (Leigh) trying to interview him while he's on bail.

As his fed-up wife, and essentially the voice of the public, Bisset rises to the challenge in a series of final-act scenes in which Simone tries to argue sense with her husband. But he continues to act like an infant by refusing to understand why Simone is disturbed by the idea that he might get away with this. As the audience knows, the rich and powerful get away with everything, despite assurances from the judge (James) that they're treated the same as poor defendants.

Along the way, Ferrara inserts plenty of his usual religious themes, including a rather pungent discussion of the nature of god in a post-Christian world. Visually, the film is shot with an edgy urgency; it doesn't quite look like a doc, but it has an improvisational tone to it that continually captures the fact that, as outrageous as the scenes on the screen may be, the truth is probably a lot worse than this.

18 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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