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last update 26.Jan.16
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Capture the Flag
dir Enrique Gato
scr Jordi Gasull, Neil Landau, Javier Lopez Barreira
prd Alvaro Augustin, Ignacio Fernandez-Veiga, Jordi Gasull, Nicolas Matji, Edmon Roch, Javier Ugarte
voices Carme Calvell, Michelle Jenner, Javier Balas, Camilo Garcia, Dani Rovira, Toni Mora, Marta Barbara, Fernando Cabrera, Xavier Casan, Ramon Canals, Alba Sola, Oriol Tarrago
amy, mike and marty release Sp 28.Aug.15,
US 4.Dec.15, UK 29.Jan.16
15/Spain 1h34
Capture the Flag While the animation isn't quite up to high Hollywood standards, a snappy script and lively characters hold the interest in this race-to-the-moon adventure. It may be predictable and silly, but the dialog is fast and funny, and the film is packed with random references that will amuse grown-ups.

Mike (Calvell) is a Florida teen whose astronaut dad Scott (Mora) is heading an emergency moon mission to protect the 1969 American flag there from being stolen by villainous energy tycoon Carson (Rovira), who secretly plans to claim all of the moon's mineral riches. Seeing this as a chance to reunite his dad with his estranged granddad (Garcia), Mike gets his teen buddies Amy and Marty (Jenner and Balas) involved in a crazy scheme around the rocket's launch. And Mike, Amy and Grandpa are the ones who end up chasing Carson to the moon.

While the story is loose and ridiculous, it moves at such a breakneck pace that the audience can do little but hold on for the ride. And while the animation lacks detail or originality, it's whizzy enough to keep the audience entertained, especially since the characters are all bristling with personality. Mike is the hapless one, accompanied by brainy-fierce Amy and inventive-geeky Marty: they're stereotypes but each has a surprise up his or her sleeve.

The Spanish animators have a nice eye for the setting, avoiding the usual rah-rah Americana while giving a snarky wink to the overstated messages about the importance of family. There's also a hilarious Kubrick gag, plus the fact that Carson's assistants are the spitting image of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. None of this makes much sense story-wise, but these kinds of touches add a layer of interest missing in most Euro-animation.

And while the plot is fairly formulaic, there's a realistic sense of peril in the story, even if it never quite earns any of its big emotional moments. For the most part this is just a frantic adventure, entertaining to both the eye and the ear but never very demanding. Young children certainly won't mind that at all, and it might even inspire a new generation to fantasise about travelling into space themselves. If not to grab an old artefact, then perhaps to make their millions by plundering it.

NB. The credited actors voiced the original Spanish-language version; English-language distributor Paramount has not released its cast list.
PG themes, violence, language
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dir Ariel Kleiman
prd Anna McLeish, Sarah Shaw
scr Ariel Kleiman, Sarah Cyngler
with Vincent Cassel, Jeremy Chabriel, Florence Mezzara, Alex Balaganskiy, Rosa Voto, Anastasia Prystay, Wietse Cocu, Daniel Vernikovski, Frank Moylan, Davit Gigolashvili, Irakli Gogiberidze, Sosina Wogayehu
chabriel and cassel
release US 5.Oct.15,
UK 8.Jan.16
15/Australia 1h34

london film fest
partisan Inventive and artful, this offbeat drama never overstates its themes, leaving the story blurred with intriguingly enigmatic elements. Indeed, the true nature of the events reveals itself gradually, as Australian director-cowriter Kleiman quietly drops hints into each scene. And while the plotting feels somewhat gimmicky, where the film goes is seriously unnerving.

Alexander (Chabriel) has grown up in a close-knit commune with his sensitive mother Susanna (Mezzara). His father Gregori (Cassel) is the group's charismatic patriarch, who arrives every now and then with new women and children. Gregori teaches the kids using a strict set of rules, refusing to tolerate any challenge to his authority. But new boy Leo (Balaganskiy) pushes all of his buttons, and gets into serious trouble, much to the consternation of his helpless mother Rosa (Voto). And Alexander's curiosity makes him doubt what he's been taught his whole life.

Shot in the Georgian Republic, the settings have a worn-out quality to them that adds an otherworldly, almost post-apocalyptic edge to the film. Tension is subtly built when Gregori teaches the kids to carry out playful games involving paint-ball guns. It's quickly revealed that these are preparations for missions in the surrounding town with real weapons. Alexander is particularly good at these assignments. But as he grows up, his will begins to clash with Gregori's.

Kleimen directs this in an unnervingly offhanded style that's eerily realistic. None of the cast members seem to be acting at all, mixing energetic humour with much darker drama. As the benevolent dictator at the centre, Cassel is quietly charming with an undercurrent of unnerving menace that emerges mainly in the subtext. And Chabriel has a magnetic quality of his own as the smart kid who quietly confronts Gregori's authority.

The film's tone churns subtly, creating a riveting atmosphere that's often very difficult to watch. As the story progresses, there are increasing hints as to Gregori's true nature, which we discover along with Alexander. Yes, this is an allegory about how part of growing up is discovering the flaws of your parents. And the film also has intriguing parallels in society at large, subtly exploring the nature of tyranny and, more importantly, the importance of developing your own moral consciousness.

15 themes, violence
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Sparks and Embers
dir-scr Gavin Boyter
prd Benjamin Craig, Alan Latham
with Kris Marshall, Annelise Hesme, Waleed Akhtar, Valda Aviks, Sean Baker, Len Trusty, Kapil Parikh, David Stock, Matt Gras, Philip Herbert, Selena Harrington, Emre Cakmak
hesme and marshall release UK 18.Dec.15
15/UK 1h28
Sparks and Embers Fresh and honest, this British comedy-drama explores what makes people fall in and out of love. Enjoyably weaving together two narrative strands centring on the same two characters, writer-director Gavin Boyter astutely touches on resonant issues without getting melodramatic. The result is breezy and light, but packed with depth of meaning.

After London music marketing manager Tom (Marshall) lost his job due to downsizing he got stuck in a lift with the downsizer herself, Eloise (Hesme). Their initial annoyance led to a sparky relationship, but now five years later it's the holiday season, their relationship is on the rocks, and Tom has an hour to convince Eloise not to give up on him before she heads home to France for good. As they walk and talk, they begin to realise that maybe the issues between them aren't quite what they thought they were.

The film has a relaxed style that plays up the comedy inherent in a serious situation. It follows Tom and Eloise as they walk along the Southbank at night, intercut with that fateful day they met in the confined spaces of the office elevator. Clearly the film's intention is to show them falling for each other twice, both times moving from antagonism to affection. Cleverly, the big difference is that now they know each other much better.

Marshall and Hesme are terrific as essentially the only people in the movie, and in playing these characters at two points in their lives, they are able to find sharp textures in the way they interact. Their commnication ebbs and flows, making the most of some rather corny plot points that contrive to push them together or pull them apart. Even more intriguing is the way they reveal how their characters have changed each other in the intervening five years.

Boyter cleverly contrasts the claustrophobic lift with the festive lights of the riverside walkway, which is suspiciously deserted. Both timelines are packed with barbed interaction, subtle flirting and casual revelations. It's a film about how relationships shift from danger and passion to something comfortable, how easy it is to take each other for granted, and how difficult it is to fully extinguish that romantic ember, no matter what happens.

12 themes, language
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The Surface
dir-scr Michael J Saul
prd Heath Daniels, Michael J Saul
with Harry Hains, Michael Redford, Nicholas McDonald, Kyle Patrick Darling, Samantha Bowling, Jinny Chung, Robert Weiner, Gabe White, Miles Platt, Bryson Pitts, Casey Sullivan, Benjamin Dennis
release US 11.Dec.15
15/US 1h19
The Surface A millennial drama, this observant film is matter-of-fact about things that would have been main plot points in movies five years ago. It's also full of big emotional moments and carries a strong resonance in its exploration of history and memory. And it's a vivid depiction of its central thesis that "some people take a whole lifetime to find themselves".

Los Angeles university student Evan (Hains) buys an old Super 8 camera from a yard sale. Raised as an orphan, he's tired of always being broke, so his boyfriend Chris (McDonald) drags him off for a road trip up the coast with a group of friends (Darling, Bowling and Chung). Evan amuses himself by shooting home movies, and while looking for film-editing equipment runs into Peter (Redford), whose childhood movies make Evan wonder about his own history. But the increasingly jealous Chris can't cope with the closeness he sees developing between Evan and Peter.

With a clearly autobiographical slant, this film sometimes feels almost overpoweringly introspective, especially with Evan's running internal monolog. Writer-director Saul's filmmaking has an enjoyably loose, home-made vibe with raw, natural performances and a terrific sense of the characters' internal drift. Scenes are flooded with light and hidden in shadows, reflecting how Evan is a free spirit with a habit of sneaking into pools for a swim. And as he becomes fascinating by the craft of shooting and editing film, his life begins to have a sense of direction.

The young cast is earthy and engaging, anchored by Hains as a relaxed, inquisitive slacker who knows nothing about his own ancestry. At the start, Evan and Chris have an easy chemistry that feels oddly tentative since the script makes a point of adding plenty of tension, all due to Chris' fear that Evan will leave when he doesn't need him anymore. So seeing Evan connect with Peter isn't a surprise. And McDonald's performance essentially has to slip into a simplistic antagonist role.

But at its core, the film is a clever depiction of a young guy trying to find his place in life, unsure about who he is but curious about the possibilities. As he tries to understand his own history, he also reveals things about the people and the world around him. And Saul's script is packed with astute comments about how life changes in ways we can never fully understand. Which makes the story remarkably moving.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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