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last update 23.Aug.15
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After Words
dir Juan Feldman
scr Joel Silverman
prd Juan Feldman, Christian Calderon, Shannon Campbell
with Marcia Gay Harden, Oscar Jaenada, Jenna Ortega, Ron Canada, Beatriz Rojas Cardenas, Jackie Torres, Rhona Meyers, Manolo Ruiz Garcia, Mauricio Astorga, Pablo Cesar Rodriguez, Yvette Thor, Maria Bonilla Picado
harden and jaenada release US 21.Aug.15
15/US 1h30
After Words Relaxing and enjoyable, this two-hander centres on people who don't know how to enjoy life: a closed-off woman and a man who never stops. It's rather cute and never terribly original, but underneath the slim story is a range of depth and insight, with characters who are stronger than they seem to be.

With an unruly mop of hair and a perpetual scowl, Los Angeles librarian Jane (Harden) has spent years being disappointed by the general public. When budget cuts close her branch, she books a trip to Costa Rica, hoping to make some happy memories before she dies from cancer. At her jungle hotel, she hires lively guide Juan (Jaenada), who works as a gigolo on the side to pay private school fees for his bright daughter Ana (Ortega). Over the following week, Juan and Jane slowly warm, encouraging each other to start reading and living, respectively.

Director Feldman underplays everything, refusing to take the expected plot turns of either a rom-com or a coming-of-age movie. Instead, it centres on the characters, taking a lightly comical approach that's tinged with mopey emotion. Both Jane's suicidal thoughts and Juan's financial pressures cast dark shadows over the film, which actually feels like it was made by the Costa Rican tourist bureau, with its spectacular photography of people, villages and natural wonders.

Harden vanishes into her role as an unnoticed, timid woman who has forgotten how to enjoy her life but wants to go out on a high. As she emerges from her shell, she remains wary but becomes much more likeable. Meanwhile, Jaenada is a chatty charmer initially drawn to her cash before discovering something more. He's a fast-thinker who delights in surprising people. So it's no wonder that he finally elicits a smile and a laugh (with the help of some local ganja), and where their interaction goes is surprisingly sweer.

This is a light, easy movie that simply encourages us to not waste our time. It's aimed at people who feel like they are beyond redemption. "Fitting in is a habit you either develop early, or not," Jane opines, believing that she's done. The film has a clear theme in the Sylvia Plath line: "Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it." But what it will really do is make audience members want to immediately book a holiday to Costa Rica.

15 themes, some sexuality
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dir Christian Cantamessa
scr Christian Cantamessa, Chris Pasetto
prd Chris Ferguson, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, David Alpert, Robert Kirkman
with Norman Reedus, Djimon Hounsou, Sandrine Holt, Michael Hogan, Sophie Lui, Ryan Bell, Paula Lindberg, Peter Benson, David Nykl, Darren Dolynski, Jin Sangha, Klara Rybicka
hounsou and reedus release US 14.Aug.15
15/Canada 1h35
Air With a dark, foreboding atmosphere, this film spins a simple premise into something thoughtful, freaky and unpredictable as it follows two normal guys who are watching over the future of humanity. So it's frustrating when the plot begins to lose focus in the second half, not helped by a dialog-obscuring sound mix.

In the wake of some sort of global chemical warfare, the atmosphere becomes unbreathable, forcing people underground, where they enter suspended animation waiting for the toxicity to clear. Every six months, two workers awaken for two hours of maintenance. Bauer (Reedus) is annoyed by the tedium of taking care of sleepers who are supposedly the finest minds left, while Cartwright (Hounsou) takes the role seriously. But repairing some fire damage is trickier than it should be, leading to unsettling discoveries about their environment and revealing unexpected levels of mistrust between these two men.

Reedus and Hounsou make a fascinating odd couple. The disinterested Bauer refuses to think about happier times back in 2018 (he seems to be stuck in 1976 instead), while the conscientious Cartwright imagines his wife (Holt) there, encouraging him to survive. The drama builds as they reveal more of their pasts, becoming increasingly suspicious of each other. But while neither is a clear villain, neither is very sympathetic either, because they both remain little more than cyphers. It doesn't help that a droning score and mumbled performances obliterate key details.

The film is cleverly conceived, using smart production design that creates a 1980s-style bunker with screens that play news stories about the calamity as a clock counts down two hours of breathable air. This gives the film echoes of both Moon and Lost, especially as the troubled imaginations of both Bauer and Cartwright create further tensions. The plot is grippingly fast-paced, with a series of desperate actions that create more moral dilemmas. Although the filmmakers themselves seem unsure about where they want to go with this.

Much of the movie is haunting and provocative, with surprising twists and turns that include a harrowing glimpse of the wasteland above. But once a gun is discovered, we know the plot will take a more traditionally violent route to the end, as the paranoia builds to a predictably nonsensical showdown. It's strikingly shot and edited, but never quite cracks the surface, as it were. And it never grapples with the big questions, like who deserves to survive.

12 themes, language, violence
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Captain Webb
dir Justin Hardy
scr Jemma Kennedy
prd Jack Fishburn, Muireann Price
with Warren Brown, Steve Oram, Georgia Maguire, Terry Mynott, Tom Stourton, Hannah Tointon, Charles Reston, Christopher Leveaux, Charlotte Gallagher, Robert Goodale, Jack Fishburn, David Keyes
brown and oram release UK 14.Aug.15
15/UK Marathon 1h27
Captain Webb This scruffy little drama recounts the inspirational story of Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the notoriously dangerous 21-mile crossing between England and France. The filmmakers needlessly fragment the narrative, eliminating any dramatic momentum in the process, but there are riveting sequences along the way as they explore this tenacious man's mental challenges.

In 1870s London, Matthew (Brown) left the Merchant Navy as a hero, privately haunted by a drowning he couldn't prevent and criticism from his father (goodale) because he didn't go into medicine like his younger brother (Reston). An avid swimmer, Matthew links up with showboating trainer Beckwith (Oram) and his daughter Agnes (Maguire), joining in the race to be the first swimmer across the Channel. The betting favourite is Paul Boynton (Mynott), an American who plans to paddle across in a floating suit. Which of course Matthew knows doesn't really count.

By flickering around in the story, the film's tone veers wildly from darkly intense to silly to romantic to sobering. So it's impossible to ever quite get into the groove and sympathise with anyone. While Webb's historic swim is gritty and earnest, his training is much more lighthearted (studying how a frog swims, drinking saltwater, smoking to make his lungs bigger). Scenes are packed with flashbacks and cutaways, and the script cranks things up with so much melodrama that events begin to feel fictional. Even so, the story itself is fascinating.

The eclectic actors deliver strongly naturalistic performances, anchored by Brown's beefy strongman gravitas. This is a man who believes in himself when no one else does ("Nothing great is easy!"), and yet shows a tentative soft side in his growing flirtation with Maguire's equally strong-willed Agnes, who's a world-class swimmer as well. A scene in which she tries to mimic Boyton's girly lady-friend (Tointon) is funny and chilling at the same time. And Oram steals every scene as Beckwith, a riotous circus ringmaster.

Director Hardy makes the most of the low budget while avoiding costume drama cliches. He also vividly presents the setbacks Webb encounters in his quest, from posh patrons to a school of jellyfish (the underwater photography is gorgeous). And the film has nicely loose, contemporary feel that evokes thoughts of pre-internet social media with the public clamouring for ever more spectacular stunts. But more faith in the narrative, instead of scrambling events to ramp things up, would have made the film much stronger.

12 themes, language, innuendo
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dir Dean Francis
scr-prd Stephen Davis, Dean Francis
with Matt Levett, Jack Matthews, Harry Cook, Sam Anderson, Maya Stange, Heather Mitchell, Bill Young, Anthony Phelan, Jayr Tinaco, Debra Freeman, Luke Hoole, Daniel Needs
levett and matthews release US 28.Aug.15,
UK 12.Oct.15
15/Australia 1h33
Drown This beautifully shot and acted Australian drama emphasises an internal journey over the details of the plot. This may make it difficult for audiences to engage with the extremely dark, sometimes bleak story, but as a portrait of a young man's inner turmoil, it's powerfully moving. It's also tackling a serious issue in an unnervingly introspective way.

Len (Levett) enjoys his status as Sydney's surf lifeguard champion, partying hard with the guys. But Len is secretly haunted by a swimmer (Stange) he couldn't save. Then talented, young lifeguard Phil (Matthews) arrives, open about the fact that he has a loving boyfriend (Anderson). Len hates the thought of losing his crown to a gay guy, so he starts taunting Phil, urging his pal Meat (Cook) to join in. But Len is clearly struggling with where his interests lie: does he hate Phil, or is he in love with him?

Filmmaker Francis cleverly reveals Len's doubts about how he feels, augmented by memories his harshly demanding father (Phelan), who instilled this self-loathing homophobia. Dark and moody, the events unfold out of sequence as a flood of memories while Len and Meat take the drunken Phil to the beach one fateful night. This fragmented approach eliminates any narrative momentum, and also drains the emotional power from the story. But it does get far beneath the surface, capturing the sensual camaraderie between these fit young men.

Performances are fearless, tackling big issues head-on. Levett is magnetic, bravely revealing Len's ugly exterior and fragile self-image. Swaggeringly bigoted but inwardly envious, Len can't help but touch Phil at every opportunity, either warmly as a buddy or violently as a bully, vividly showing how his desire fuels his rage. Cook is solid as his friend and follower, while Matthews adds an intelligence and compassion that only seems to make Len even more angry.

There are some troubling story elements (why does Meat wait so long to stand up for himself?), and the jarring structure is obstructive until Len's insecurities reveal themselves. But the film is artfully shot and edited, beautifully capturing how it feels to be stuck inside a mindset you know intellectually is wrong, but can't control. And the fact that, as manly as this guy is, he's not a man at all until he admits who he is and deals with it. Or as Len shouts to the woman who died, "If you keep going that way you'll drown!" To which she replies, "I know."

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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