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last update 19.Nov.14
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Big Gay Love
dir-scr Ringo Le
prd Quentin Lee, Ringo Le, Marisa Le
with Jonathan Lisecki, Nicholas Brendon, Todd Stroik, Ethan Le Phong, Ann Walker, Ina-Alice Kopp, Jesse James Rice, Ken Takemoto, Harvey Guillen, Drew Droege, Jason Stuart, Amy Hill
brendon and lisecki
release US 6.Jun.14, UK 8.Dec.14
13/US 1h25
Big Gay Love There's potential here for a pointed gay rom-com, but writer-director Le never quite sells any of the hokey plot points. While the story is a nice exploration of body consciousness, the slack pacing prevents the actors from making anything of the characters. And this leaves the story's themes feeling shallow and preachy.

Sharp-witted party planner Bob (Lisecki) is buying his first home but would really like a boyfriend to share it with. His friends Aidan and Chase (Stroik and Phong) are so tired of him complaining about his pudgy looks that they recommend plastic surgery. Then at one of his parties he meets hot chef Andy (Brendon), who seems to really like him. But Bob is so preoccupied with his body that he can't believe Andy's genuinely interested. So he freaks out over and over again, but it'll clearly take something big to finally push Andy away.

Le's dialog and characters are snappy in a TV sitcom sort of way, but it's the low-energy pacing that makes the film feel like it's a made-for-kids comedy rather than something adults might be interested in. It's so simplistically scripted and directed that any potential charm in the story is lost along the way. Although there are some nice scenes with well-written and played conversations, the plot points are so stilted and contrived that it's hard to stick with it.

One key problem is that it's very difficult to know what Andy sees in a guy who is so paralysed by self-doubt. Bob simply can't accept that a good-looking man might be attracted to him or even love him, so he sabotages everything in sight. But this makes him deeply unlikeable as a movie character: a drama queen who leaps to the wrong conclusions and alienates everyone around him, including the audience.

There are further side-plots that touch on issues of attraction and self-image, most notably how smart people look for a lot more than a person's physicality. But the film belabours every point. No one has a problem with how Bob looks but him, and ultimately he's the one who pathetically judges everyone on their looks. These ideas are so loudly shouted that they seem to be more important to Le than the story itself. Frankly, by concentrating on themes instead of characters, the film ends up feeling bland and undercooked.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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dir Bruce LaBruce
scr Bruce LaBruce, Daniel Allen Cox
prd Nicolas Comeau, Leonard Farlinger, Jennifer Jonas
with Pier-Gabriel Lajoie, Walter Borden, Katie Boland, Marie-Helene Thibault, Yardly Kavanagh, Shawn Campbell, Brian D Wright, Jean-Alexandre Letourneau, Tamsen Fields, Dana Wright, Adam Capriolo, Guillaume Lambert
lajoie and borden release UK 10.Nov.14,
Can 18.Apr.14
13/Canada 1h22

flare film festival
Gerontophilia Anarchic Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce is working dangerously close to the mainstream in this gentle drama with romantic overtones. But even without monsters or explicit sex, the film includes LaBruce's trademark jolts, not least in how the provocative subject matter is treated with unnerving honesty. As the title says, this is a film about being attracted to the elderly.

At 18, Lake (Lajoie) is a nice-guy lifeguard startled to discover that he's drawn to geriatric men. After he gets a job at a nursing home, he begins to bond with the sardonic 81-year-old Melvyn (Borden). And something unexpectedly deeper happens. When a harsh nurse (Kavanagh) catches them in a drunken game of strip poker, Lake's secret is out. But his fiercely feminist girlfriend Desiree (Boland) finds the whole thing intriguing, seeing Lake as a revolutionary fighting against injustice when he breaks Melvyn out of hospital for a pointed road trip across snowy Canada.

Intriguingly LaBruce frames this in an everyday style, focussing more on Lake's voyage of self-discovery than the transgressive sexuality. This is an unusual shift for LaBruce, who usually glories in breaking taboos. His shock tactics here are far softer, which will surprise his fans. But the mild approach has its own charms, even if it never quite manages to be a queer Harold and Maude.

With no acting experience, Lajoie is likeable but awkward. His reticent performance helps bring out Lake's confusion ("I think I have a fetish") and clumsy emotions as he confronts the shock of mortality, knowing that Melvyn will die before him. And there's also some wrenching emotion, plus a spark of jealousy when he catches Melvyn flirting with other men. Borden is so spry, sharp and healthy that it's unclear why the doctors are drugging Melvyn, except perhaps to control his libido. Meanwhile, Boland and Thibault (as Lake's bozy mum) offer hilarious support.

The film is rough around the edges, but LaBruce shoots and edits it cleverly to make scenes both thoughtful and warmly engaging. Some elements feel strangely fragmented, but the film's odd rhythms are endearing. This is a comedy that induces smiles rather than laughter, while continually adding jarring emotions. And while the stiff performances make the film feel like a rehearsal, it's still remarkably sweet for such a potentially touchy subject.

18 themes, language, sexuality, grisliness
24.Mar.14 flare
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Home for Christmas
dir-scr Jamie Patterson
prd Nathalie Grace, Ian Lucas, Jamie Patterson
with April Pearson, Karl Davies, Amanda Piery, Matt Beveridge, Lucy Griffiths, Derren Nesbitt, Pat Garrett, Shirley Jaffe, Graeme Dalling, Nicholas Moon, Amy Onyett, Lorna Rose Harris
pearson and davies
release UK 5.Dec.14
14/UK 1h42
Home for Christmas Since all of the characters are utterly hapless, this British rom-com plays out as an underdeveloped comedy of embarrassment. The problem is that no one is particularly likeable, mainly because everything hinges on simplistic set-pieces, corny gags and the assumption that everyone is utterly useless at romance. And despite the title, there's nothing remotely festive here, apart from a Christmas Eve finale.

In Brighton, Beth (Pearson) is waiting for her boyfriend Aiden (Beveridge) to tell her he loves her, so is unprepared when he breaks up. Meanwhile, her job in a family-run cinema is under threat when a national chain sends regional manager Matt (Davies) to buy the venue and sack the staff. Her best pal Lizzie (Piery) tries to cheer her up with a makeover before she drunkenly lunges for Matt. Meanwhile, he's dealing with a nightmare ex (Griffiths) and a hospitalised grandfather (Nesbitt). Maybe Beth should just move to Australia with her mother (Garrett).

Romantic comedies are by definition predictable, but this film's awkward pacing and hammy acting make the plot unusually dull. The script never cracks the surface, playing with genre cliches but never finding something new to say. There are hints of subtext in the way the small business is scooped up by a conglomerate, or how the obviously gorgeous and fit Beth is crippled by self-doubt, but the filmmakers never develop any of this.

Pearson overplays Beth's insecurity."What's wrong with me?" she whines, answering her own question. Obsessed with Hugh Grant, she's the author of her problems, and yet the screenplay lays everything on the men. This undermines Davies' nicely balanced performance, the best in the film, and leaves him dithering as well. This hesitance is played for laughs, but is deeply annoying. As if being tongue-tied is some sort of virtue, the film misses its best point: be honest and say how you feel.

Writer-director Patterson directs and edits without much pace, jumping from scene to random scene without building narrative momentum or character coherence. This may is reflect Beth's frazzled state of mind, but it only makes her even less likeable. The final act is particularly contrived, wedging in manipulative sentimentality that has a genuine emotional kick but doesn't really connect to the central story. And Beth and Matt clearly have a sweet connection, so putting them through this ludicrous wringer is just unnecessary.

15 themes, language
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What We Do in the Shadows
dir-scr Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
prd Taika Waititi, Emanuel Michael, Chelsea Winstanley
with Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Jackie van Beek, Rhys Darby, Simon Vincent, Karen O'Leary, Mike Minogue, Elena Stejko
clement and waititi release US Jan.14 sff,
NZ 19.Jun.14, UK 21.Nov.14
14/New Zealand 1h26

What We Do in the Shadows With a mischievous sense of Kiwi humour, this mock-doc pokes fun at both vampire movies and bromances. It's all very silly, but done in such a hilariously matter-of-fact style that it keeps the audience chuckling right from beginning to end. And the film even finds some moments of emotion along the way to pull us in further.

Clad in crucifixes, a camera crew follows four vampires who share a flat in Wellington: preening dandy Viago (Waititi) keeps the household running, telling off the others for not doing their chores; swarthy lover Vladislav (Clement) isn't quite as powerful as he was 800 years ago; good-time guy Deacon (Brugh) doesn't like rules; and 8-millennium-old Petyr (Fransham) lurks menacingly in his basement crypt. As they prepare for the city's annual Unholy Masquerade Ball, they get help fitting into modern society by new recruit Nick (Gonzalez-Macuer) and his human pal Stu (Rutherford).

Without much plot, the film traces day-to-day issues facing vampires in 21st century New Zealand. Going out for a night on the town is fraught with problems: getting ready is tricky when you can't use a mirror, you must be invited into bars and clubs, and hitting a main artery when feeding makes a terrible mess. And then there's Deacon's slave Jackie (van Beek), who's tired of being strung along with promises of eternal life. Plus a local band of despised werewolves who have their own issues.

All of this plays out like a Munsters-style reality TV show, with both mortals and supernatural beings offering opinions along the way. The cast plays everything with offhanded wackiness that makes their riotously messy life together feel almost normal. They're constantly getting into normal flatmate arguments, hissing and flying through the air to attack each other (there's even a bat fight). But they genuinely like each other and band together to make Nick take a walk of shame when he misbehaves.

Warm underlying insecurities that cripple each of these likeable characters. They may be immortal killers, but they're also guys with ego issues, romantic yearnings and easily provoked rivalries. So even if the big climax at the undead's social event of the year feels somewhat anticlimactic, the character interaction manages to come to a head in a terrific way, packed with fiercely clever observations and small moments of sublimely ridiculous comedy.

15 themes, language, violence
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