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last update 22.Feb.15
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Down Dog
dir-prd Andres Dussan
scr Andres Dussan, Simon Nye, Lawrence Tallis
with Jason Durr, Nick Moran, Orla O'Rourke, Dylan Llewellyn, Tom Goodman-Hill, Naomi Battrick, Poppy Drayton, Chetna Pandya, Jerry-Jane Pears, Zora Bishop, Neil Toon, Will Austin
durr and llewellyn release UK 13.Feb.15
14/UK 1h37

raindance film fest
down dog There's a sense that filmmaker Dussan wants this to be a rude British sex comedy, but everything about the movie is so prudish and moralistic that it feels fake. There may be moments that are relatively engaging, but the film continually undermines its own point about the importance of family.

Frank (Durr) works for a sex-toy company with his pal Bill (Moran), and business is good. To interrupt his irresponsible lifestyle, which seems to consist of nonstop parties packed with buxom women, Frank's estranged wife Rachel (O'Rourke) arranges for his doctor (Goodman-Hill) to give him a fake diagnosis. Now thinking he has a fatal heart condition, Frank starts to put his life in order, reevaluating his job and bonding with his 15-year-old son Sam (Llewellyn) on a series of outings while encouraging Sam to make a move on Amy (Drayton).

Drenched in sexual overtones without ever being sexy, the plot is never properly developed. Frank upends his life without a question about his diagnosis. So the superficial vulgarity sits at odds with the darker dramatic themes. And choppy editing adds distracting side scenes while cutting away from every hint of honesty. The strongest moment in the film is when Sam asks Frank why he left. He can't answer, and Dussan lets him off the hook.

Despite the up-for-it actors, who actually bring glimpses of charm here and there, there's also a problem with the characters themselves: each feels eerily unbelievable. Bill is a moron without a clue about women or sex, how has he built a successful company like this? And Frank is also a jerk, mistreating Rachel while looking for her everywhere (O'Rourke also plays his series of girlfriends). Durr simply can't make this character likeable; he comes across as an idiot who only acts decently when pushed into a corner, then blames his problems on his job.

Once Dussan reveals these men as misogynistic half-wits the film begins to feel pathetic. So throwing dildos at each other isn't remotely amusing. At its centre, the story's one big point about connecting with loved ones rings utterly false, because Frank's only motivation for re-establishing his relationship with his son and ex is purely selfish: he doesn't want to be remembered as a bad father and husband. Which means that Dussan's attempt to push emotional buttons comes across as hollow and cynical.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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dir-scr-prd Harry Macqueen
with Harry Macqueen, Lori Campbell
campbell and macqueen
release UK 27.Feb.15
14/UK 1h18

raindance film fest
Hinterland Shot and edited with considerable skill, this evocative drama plays around with thoughts and feelings without ever making much sense of them. It's an experiential film that meanders along without context, leaving the audience to connect all of the dots. Fans of loose, ambiguous filmmaking will love it, but it'll drive most audiences round the bend.

When Harvey (Macqueen) hears that his childhood friend Lola (Campbell) is back in London after a failed attempt to launch her musical career in Los Angeles, he invites her to spend a couple of days at an isolated house in Cornwall. For both of them, this is a return to their childhood, and they talk about their parents, old adventures and eventually some of their current feelings about where life has taken them. Although since they're only in their 20s, they don't have much experience to draw on.

Played out in an improvisational style, the dialog roams from topic to topic, never quite settling into an overriding theme. Harvey and Lola talk about "him" or "her" without any hint as to who these people are or why their stories are relevant. It isn't until about three-quarters in that we realise they're childhood friends, not siblings or ex-lovers. Although there's a vague hint of attraction between them, it's never clear if this is an issue. But then nothing is firmly defined, every scene feels random and the structure of their trip feels constructed.

Even so, the film is beautifully shot (by Ben Hecking) and artfully edited (by Alice Petit), constantly capturing images that suggest a much deeper subtext to what we're watching. But there isn't even any text. And while Macqueen plays Harvey as a haunted young man dealing with something dark as he tries to put on a brave face, Campbell is eerily childish and smiley, never saying anything beyond the blindingly obvious. Even her supposedly telling observations feel naggingly simplistic.

The film's one moment of raw emotional power and thematic focus is when Lola picks up a guitar and sings. Here we begin to understand that there's something real going on somewhere out of reach, so the scene feels far too brief. Soon we're back wondering why everything is so anachronistically retro (they have mobile phones, but use a disposable camera and an old map atlas, writing notes on scraps of paper). So in the end the movie just feels like a self-indulgent bit of indie filmmaking. Macqueen has talent, but needs to find a story to tell. And then actually tell it.

15 themes, language
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Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
dir David Zellner
scr David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
prd Andrew Banks, Jim Burke, Cameron Lamb, Chris Ohlson, Nathan Zellner
with Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, David Zellner, Shirley Venard, Nathan Zellner, Brad Prather, Kanako Higashi, Ichi Kyokaku, Ayaka Ohnishi, Mayuko Kawakita, Takao Kinoshita, Earl Milton
zellner and kikuchi
release US Jan.14 sff,
UK 20.Feb.15
14/US 1h45

sundance londonlondon film fest
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter An offbeat riff on the Coen brothers' Fargo, this "true story" is packed with witty touches and knowing references, as well as a remarkably complex, surreal performance from Kikuchi. It's also a little bit frustrating in its refusal to let the audience in on the joke, if it is a joke.

In Japan, cheeky 29-year-old Kumiko (Kikuchi) rebels against society by refusing to settle down with a husband. Instead, she follows a treasure map to a seaside cave, where she finds a videotape of Fargo and a clue pointing to the moment in the film when a case of cash is buried in snowy Minnesota. Even though it's clearly a fictional movie, Kumiko becomes obsessed with travelling to the wintry American Midwest to find that cash. Stranded in the snow, she gets help from locals including an elderly woman (Venard) and a friendly cop (David Zellner).

The plot is so bonkers that it has a ring of truth, although there's something squirm-inducing about being asked to sympathise with someone who is so delusional, and probably mentally ill. In the opening scenes, Kikuchi quietly pulls us into Kumiko's tedious life as a clone-like tea lady living in a squalid flat with her pet rabbit, hiding from her mother, who wants her to move home until she gets married. But she's horrified by the thought of that, and it's no wonder she's searching so tenaciously for something, anything else.

Director-cowriter Zellner somehow manages to create a lightly comical tone while undermining every scene with horror movie touches. The film is skilfully shot and edited to create a witty, engrossing mystery. At the same time, the narrative meanders as it follows this lost girl on her clearly pointless quest. Kikucki's performance is superficially blank but oozes a sense of yearning in every encounter she has. She may be a liar and a thief, but she's also desperate for affection and purpose.

Throughout the story, it's impossible not to become uneasy about Kumiko's autistic-like focus on this fictional treasure. Her refusal to see what's actually going on around her is rather scary. But then her life is so infused with sadness that this low-key adventure, however misguided and transgressive, feels like a positive step. So while the story feels extreme, it's also oddly easy to identify with, thanks to the smart, unsettling, unforgettable filmmaking.

15 themes, language
24.Apr.14 slf
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The Last Straight Man
dir-scr Mark Bessenger
prd Mark Bessenger, Cliff Van Koppenhagen, Benjamin Lutz
with Mark Cirillo, Scott Sell, David Alanson Bradberry, Victoria De Mare, Blake Harrison, Nicotingia Arnzen-Samoa, Marisa Serrano, Shane Fenske, Jason James, Benjamin Lutz, Roy Green, Brian Nolan
sell and cirillo release UK 23.Feb.15
14/US 1h49
The Last Straight Man With essentially just two characters, this would actually make a great play, a gay twist on Same Time Next Year. Shot in openhanded, cleverly orchestrated long scenes, the film is warm and funny, nicely played with strong chemistry and packed with complex observations on sexuality. It's also sexy and gently provocative.

Following a riotous stag night with a bouncy stripper (De Mare), groom-to-be Cooper (Sell) hangs out in the hotel room with his best pal Lewis (Cirillo). After a few tequila shots, they confess their most outrageous sexual experiences to each other, and Cooper is intrigued by Lewis' bisexuality, indulging in a bit of drunken experimentation. They agree to meet on the same night every year to carry on this "experimentation", even as Cooper's wife (Harrison) gives birth to their children and Lewis admits that he's truly gay. And he thinks Cooper must be too.

The film is made up of four extended scenes over eight years, plus a "much later" epilog. Each segment catches up on Cooper and Lewis as their friendship develops into something unexpected, both physically and emotionally. There's clearly a lot of affection between these guys, as well as a physical attraction, but whether this is more than that remains a lingering question that will probably divide audiences. Despite the cheesy background music, the film is very well shot and edited, giving the actors space to create properly layered characters.

Both Cirillo and Sell are relaxed and realistic in the roles, sometimes a bit smiley and sometimes struggling with clunky dialog ("That is a whale of a tale!"), but the actors reveal all kinds of things going on both individually and between them. From their first tentative touches ("no kissing!") to the far more intimate and explicit scenes later on, the actors quietly build the characters into complex men who refuse to fit into a box.

Intriguingly, the film can also be read as a gay man's fantasy, perhaps one of the romance novels Lewis writes. Although as it shifts from silly and sweet to tough and dark, it also becomes a fascinating look at maintaining honest relationships. Along the way, the script also touches knowingly on universal issues of how men interact amid society's barriers and taboos. And a couple of scenes (a frisky long take while a maid cleans the room, a tequila-shot kiss) are some of the sexiest cinematic moments in recent memory.

18 themes, language, sexuality
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