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last update 3.Oct.15
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dir Neil Mcenery-West
scr David Lemon
prd Christine Hartland, Casey Herbert, Pete Smyth
with Lee Ross, Sheila Reid, Andrew Leung, Louise Brealey, William Postlethwaite, Gabriel Senior, Pippa Nixon, Kevin Squelch, Christos Lawton, Erin Joyce, Hannah Chalmers, Emma Lowther
ross, brealey, postlethwaite and reid release US 1.Aug.15,
UK 11.Sep.15
15/UK 1h17
Containment With an intelligent script and a sharp cast, this inventive thriller manages to create a sense of claustrophobic intensity without ever resorting to big effects or bombastic action. While the premise echoes both Tower Block and Attack the Block, this film remains small and gritty. And it's much more involving as a result.

In a big-city estate, sculptor Mark (Ross) wakes to find his power and water switched off and doors and windows sealed. Which is a problem since he's late for a child-custody hearing with his ex. Then he spots people in hazmat suits setting up a quarantine outside. So his neighbours knock holes between their flats: frazzled couple Sally and Aidan (Brealey and Postlethwaite), hothead Sergei (Leung) and his mute young brother Nicu (Senior), and elderly Enid (Reid), who notes that it wasn't this bad during the war. And no one agrees what to do next.

The question is whether they should keep calm and carry on or fight their way out. Repeatedly saying "The situation is under control" is no help when something so clearly dangerous is going on. Director Mcenery-West keeps everything so grounded that the film develops an instant sense of urgency. So the character interaction is as thrilling as the mystery about what's happening outside. Then the desperation increases as the neighbours capture a hazmat (Nixon), with violence rippling around the estate exactly as the officials feared that an infectious disease would.

The cast is terrific as people who don't know or even care about each other, but are forced to circle together to make a survival plan. Their interpersonal dramas add foreground texture to the scary situation they're in. And each actor is remarkably naturalistic, creating a palpable sense of fear that jostles the dynamic between them. As things turn increasingly nasty, it becomes clear that no one is safe in this script. So the emotions that surge suddenly are unnervingly powerful.

Along the way, writer Lemon explores layers of larger meaning in the premise, from the panic caused by government secrecy to the wide variety of ways people react when pushed into a corner. Some become more aggressive, others express compassion, reason and bemusement. There are some false moments in the plot, including some rather contrived violence and a convenient mobile phone, but the inventive approach and gifted performances make this simple thriller hauntingly realistic.

15 themes, language, violence
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dir Keri Collins
scr Simon Fantauzzo
prd Ray Panthaki
with Ray Panthaki, Adeel Akhtar, Vicky McClure, John Norton, James Bradshaw, Margaret Jackman, Anthony Head, Verne Troyer, Velibor Topic, Joe Marsh, Daniel Caltagirone, Duane Henry
panthaki and akhtar release UK 2.Oct.15
15/UK 1h27
Convenience Dry and very silly, this British comedy has a nicely snarky tone and some terrific gags. But its characters are such idiots that what happens is neither amusing nor believable. So as the zaniness spirals, the film becomes more and more difficult to engage with.

The short-fused Ajay (Panthaki) is annoyed that his dopey best pal Shaan (Akhtar) has managed to run up an £8,552 debt to Russian strip club owners. Chased by two goons (Topic and Marsh), Ajay and Shaan decide to get the cash by robbing a petrol garage mini-market. But the safe is on a time delay, so they tie up the pedantic manager (Norton) and a customer (Bradshaw), then pose as clerks to wait until 6am. When the actual clerk Levi (McClure) returns from her break, carrying on this charade becomes much more difficult.

The premise is clever, and the cast dive in with energetic performances. But writer Fantauzzo never really develops the situation or characters beyond the first idea, while director Collins struggles to maintain the needed energy. So the night passes very, very slowly, even with the arrival of random customers like a suicidal drunk (Head), a tiny cowboy (Troyer) and some posh stoners. The only likeable character is McClure's sardonic Levi, a quick-witted woman who realises that Ajay and Shaan aren't the new employees they claim to be, so she easily out-thinks them at every turn.

Ajay and Shaan are so inconsistently drawn that Panthaki and Akhtar are unable to ground them. Ajay is thoughtless and oblivious, while Shaan is a dim-witted nice guy who would never be able to function in society. Neither has an original thought in his head, and both veer oddly between lucid observations, tender compassion and wildly unstable reactions. With some inexplicable innuendo thrown in as well. Together they can only make every situation much worse than it was before. So it's impossible to engage with either of them.

Collins makes the most of a low budget, nicely using the single location and editing scenes together with a sharp sense of black humour. While this elicits some chuckles, the movie is never very funny, mainly because it's painful to watch the cast strain to find emotion and romance amid the inane antics. Yes, as the halfhearted plot continues, the story takes a series of turns that contrive to shift this into something moving. Which makes the final stand-off feel nonsensical.

15 themes, language, violence
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Just Jim
dir-scr Craig Roberts
prd Adrian Bate, Pip Broughton
with Craig Roberts, Emile Hirsch, Nia Roberts, Aneirin Hughes, Charlotte Randall, Ryan Owen, Matthew Aubrey, Mark Lewis Jones, Richard Harrington, Sai Bennett, Helen Griffin, Trystan Gravelle
craig roberts release US Mar.15 sxsw,
UK 25.Sep.15
15/UK Soda 1h24
Just Jim At 24, Welsh actor Craig Roberts makes a confident writing-directing debut with this rather outrageous coming-of-age drama. It's probably far too deliberately quirky for most audiences, but there are strong themes running through every heightened emotional scene. And it shows a refreshing willingness to experiment with style and structure.

In small-town Wales, Jim (Roberts) is essentially ignored by everyone around him. His parents (Nia Roberts and Hughes) are more concerned with his big sister Michelle (Bennett), while his teacher (Harrington) can't even remember his name. Even his best friend Michael (Owen) has thoughtlessly started dating the girl (Randall) Jim likes. It seems like the only person who notices him is the cruel class bully (Aubrey). But all of this changes when the cool, mysterious American Dean (Hirsch) moves in next door. And as Jim hangs out with him, things start looking up.

Roberts directs the film in a mannered way that uses bold camera angles and intense colours. It's dark and textured, and so stylised that most scenes have a dreamlike feel to them, especially the segments that are actually dreams, flashbacks or flights of fancy. In other words, the film takes a fiercely internal approach to Jim's story, presenting his personal journey as a mash-up of movie styles. We're never quite sure if anything that happens is real.

As an actor, Roberts is likeable enough to hold our interest, even if the relentlessly offbeat filmmaking continually reminds us that this is an arthouse movie. Even so, Jim's frustration is very easy to identify with, as are his more imaginatively extreme ways of dealing with it. And his interaction with the other characters is prickly and surprising. Hirsch gives just the right level of mythical energy to the rather obviously named Dean, a larger-than-life dude who seems to have been invented by Jim, then takes over his life.

So while the film's overly stylised approach make it feel almost like a feature music video, there are moments of breathtaking emotion along the way, as well as some bracing tension. A few of Roberts' flourishes don't really add anything to the narrative (like the series of beautifully shot underwater cutaways), which leaves the movie feeling a little like a film student experimenting with every idea that pops into his head. So maybe with this out of his system, he can focus more on telling a story next time. Because he's certainly a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

15 themes, language, violence
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Leading Lady
dir Henk Pretorius
scr Henk Pretorius, Tina Kruger
prd Llewelynn Greeff, Henk Pretorius
with Katie McGrath, Bok van Blerk, Gil Bellows, Brumilda van Rensburg, Andre Stolz, Eduan van Jaarsveldt, Craig Palm, Mary Twala, Jana Strydom, Carien Botha, Tina Kruger, Ruby Carr
van blerk and mcgrath release SA 28.Nov.14,
US Jun.14 siff, UK 9.Oct.15
14/South Africa 1h36
leading lady A chirpy tone helps make this film watchable, even if the writing and direction never make the most of the material. Continually relying on cornball comedy and trite cliches, the script defeats most of the actors. But the cinematography beautifully captures both the epic grandeur and the quirky culture of the Transvaal.

London drama teacher Jodi (McGrath) is trying to convince her famous filmmaker boyfriend Daniel (Bellows) to cast her in his biopic of an Afrikaans war heroine. To convince him that she's serious, she flies to South Africa and meets the woman's descendant Magdaleen (van Rensburg) and her two sons, farm manager Kobus (van Blerk) and hapless womaniser Johan (van Jaarsveldt). They talk her into using Daniel's script as the basis for an annual community play, staged in the barn. And in the process, Jodi begins to think she'd prefer Kobus to an acting career.

With its romantic-comedy narrative, there's never even the slightest question about where this is heading. And the script also throws in an equally predictable subplot about economic troubles forcing the family to sell their farm. At least this gives the film a few genuinely moving moments along the way, nicely played by the scene-stealing van Rensburg. Otherwise, Magdaleen seems as cartoonish as the rest of the characters.

McGrath has sparky energy, and van Blerk has plenty of brooding masculinity, but Pretorius' direction never generates much chemistry between them, relying on montage sequences as they explore the farm or rehearse the play. Oddly, Bellows plays little more than a buffoon. But then all of the characters are paper thin, overacting the one personality trait they're given. The only realistic people are smaller roles played by Palm (as Kobus' righthand man) and Twala (as the family maid).

Even with the clunky filmmaking, story clicks into gear as it explores a culture clash with wit and warmth. This is a part of the world that remains isolated in its traditions while feeling pressure from the outside, whether that's financial stress or the temptations of celebrity and stardom. Frustratingly, the screenwriters don't make much of either these ripe themes or the story's opportunities for smart comedy and pointed drama. Instead, the film feels watered down to fit in with bland Hollywood productions. And there was potential for it to be a lot more than that.

PG themes, language
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