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On this page: THE DARK HORSE | 52 TUESDAYS
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last update 29.Mar.15
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The Dark Horse
dir-scr James Napier Robertson
prd Tom Hern
with Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Kirk Torrance, Miriama McDowell, Wayne Hapi, Barry Te Hira, Niwa Whatuira, Xavier Horan, Lyel Timu, Calae Hignett-Morgan, Te Rua Rehu-Martin, James Napier Robertson
rolleston and curtis release NZ 17.Jul.14,
UK 3.Apr.15
14/NZ 2h04

The Dark Horse Dark and sometimes oppressively downbeat, this true story returns lead actor Curtis to the rough side of New Zealand society so memorably featured in Once Were Warriors (1994). It's a powerful depiction of an unusual man finding a glimpse of hope in a difficult situation.

In Gisbourne, mental patient Genesis (Curtis) is released into the care of his biker-gang brother Ariki (Hapi), who immediately resents Genesis' connection with his teen son Mana (Rolleston). Ariki is insisting that Mana join the gang on his 15th birthday, but Mana would rather join a youth chess club run by Genesis' old pal Noble (Torrance) and his wife Sandy (McDowell). Genesis was a chess prodigy as a young man, and maybe he can now offer an alternative to the aimless lives of local kids. But can he help Mana stand up to his dad?

Writer-director Robertson films in a remarkably grim style, with threatening skies and run-down homes filled with people who use drugs and violence to kill the time. And Genesis' life seems particularly bleak: after Ariki throws him out, he sleeps rough and struggles to maintain the positive outlook his recovery requires. Curtis plays him as a gentle giant whose alert eyes frighten everyone until they get to know him. It's an intense performance that cuts through the film's murky atmosphere.

Otherwise, the gloom is almost overpowering. The young actors combine their characters' hopelessness with a newfound interest in something that might get them out of town, even if just for two days to attend a championship they have no chance of winning. So it's a shame they're so undefined, especially Whatuira's Michael, who seems to have an intriguing story of his own. In a meatier role, Rolleston is excellent as a guy who doesn't know who he is other than that he doesn't want to follow his father's violent path.

Although the message is overstated, this is a powerful story about a damaged man having an impact on young people who have never had many opportunities. So even if the film seems to get trapped in its own downward spiral, it demonstrates that a positive influence often comes from the least expected place. And since it's so sharply written and directed, and played with layers of texture by Curtis and Rolleston, the film will hopefully spark others who want to make even a seemingly insignificant difference in their communities.

15 themes, language, violence
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52 Tuesdays
dir Sophie Hyde
scr Matthew Cormack
prd Matthew Cormack, Sophie Hyde, Bryan Mason, Rebecca Summerton
with Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Del Herbert-Jane, Mario Spate, Beau Travis Williams, Imogen Archer, Sam Althuizen, Danica Moors, Audrey Mason-Hyde, Susie Skinner, Susan Hyde, Greg Marsh
herbert-jane and cobham-hervey release UK Mar.14 flare,
Aus 1.May.14, US 27.Mar.15
14/Australia 1h49

flare film fest
52 Tuesdays Shot over a year exactly as depicted in the narrative, this film has a strikingly realistic approach to its story, letting events and personalities blossom in unexpected directions. And even though it's set out as an exploration of gender identity and family connections, the film actually turns out to be a punchy exploration of adolescence.

It centres on 16-year-old Billie (Cobham-Hervey), whose mother Jane (Herbet-Jane) asks her to move in with her father Tom (Williams) for a year while Jane undergoes gender reassignment to become James. But they will still meet each Tuesday to be part of each others' lives. Also in the picture is Billie's Uncle Harry (Spate), who's more like a big brother to her. But it's her new friends Jasmine and Josh (Archer and Althuizen) who stir things up the most, as they challenge Billie to explore her own sexuality and rebel against expectations.

Director Hyde and writer Cormack cleverly throw us off balance, as we realise that Billie is going through exactly the same issues every teen must deal with, and her mother's sexuality and gender has little to do with any of that. Cobham-Hervey beautifully captures that teen attitude: annoyance that her parents' issues are making her life difficult. Herbert-James offers a remarkably honest portrayal of both an internal and external transition. And the supporting cast adds energy and spark.

All of this is shot with an earthy, natural approach that really gets under the skin. Interaction between the characters is remarkably intimate, offering honest glimpses into the characters. But every scene also has a wry, witty tone to it that cleverly undermines the heavy themes and offers a lively sense of curiosity and discovery. And this helps make the important point that people are who they are regardless of their sex.

Along the way, the film plays with semantics, as Billie tries to understand her mother's new world. Is she gay or straight? Is she looking for a man or a woman as a future partner? Or is it possible that James' "authentic life" simply rejects these expected notions? As these questions play out over the course of a year, the film sometimes feels a bit repetitive and mopey, but the subtlety of the approach keeps it warm and resonant. And in the end, the real kick comes in the fact that the true issue here is self-acceptance.

15 themes, language
30.Mar.14 flare
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Hackney’s Finest
dir Chris Bouchard
scr Thorin Seex
prd Arin Alldridge, Chris Bouchard
with Nathanael Wiseman, Arin Alldridge, Enoch Frost, Marlon G Day, Rajan Sharma, Neerja Naik, Malcolm Tomlinson, Sean Cronin, Katarina Gellin, Jeanette Rourke, Takako Nodera, Christopher Dingli
release UK 3.Apr.15
14/UK 1h30

east end film fest
hackney's finest Director Bouchard and writer Seex clearly had a strong idea for this movie, which merges the standard East End crime drama with the more blackly comedic tone of films like Trainspotting or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But that balance is difficult to pull off, and these filmmakers never quite get it right, which leaves the movie feeling loud, violent and rather pointless.

Sirus (Wiseman) is a young guy with no idea how lucky he is to have a decent job and a hot-smart girlfriend (Gellin). Instead, he spends his days smoking heroin, ignoring the fact that Hackney detective Priestly (Alldridge) is determined to catch him. Priestly's also after a missing stash of drugs and cash, and forces Sirus' junkie pal Asif (Sharma) to set up an elaborate con, calling in Russian mobster Delski (Cronin) and his pals as insurance. Meanwhile, Sirus is working with heavily armed Welsh-Jamaican cohorts (Frost and Day), so a grisly showdown is inevitable.

Wiseman has considerable presence in the thankless central role as a addict who thinks it's adorable to be high all the time. That he manages to hold down a job and a girlfriend is frankly unbelievable. At least he finds a bit of chemistry with Sharma as Sirus' even more hollow best pal. And the lively double act of Frost and Day is genuinely amusing. On the other hand, Alldridge so over-eggs his villainous-cop character that every blunt line out of his mouth feels ludicrous.

But this is the problem: East End cop movies are already such a tired cliche that trying to take a blackly comical approach makes this movie feel like an inadvertent spoof. Every scene is packed with, yes, hackneyed dialog and plotting that simply never has any connection to the real world. By about the mid point, the film has descended into what's essentially a war movie in an eerily abandoned corner of London's urban sprawl (although hailing a Black Cab is still easy).

In real life, those empty warehouses are surrounded by trendy lofts, emerging art galleries and achingly cool nightclubs. But then everything on-screen is exaggerated, from the cartoonish levels of firepower to riotously hair-curling language. Even the stereotypical characters have little individuality, so in the end it's impossible to root for anyone or care what happens to them. Because we know it'll just be a cheap gag.

18 themes, language, drugs, violence, sexuality
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3 in a Bed
dir Lloyd Eyre-Morgan
scr Neil Ely, Lloyd Eyre-Morgan
prd Neil Ely, Lloyd Eyre-Morgan, Jody Latham
with Brennan Reece, Darren Bransford, Verity-May Henry, Coby Hamilton, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, Louisa Bettine, Jody Latham, Sian Hill, Mark Hill, Joe Chambers, Amy-Jane Ollies, Kate James
bransford and reece
release UK 23.Mar.15
14/UK 1h21
3 in a Bed With a homemade filmmaking style, this micro-budget British drama will probably only appeal to friends and family of the cast and crew. There isn't much about this movie that works, which is rather rather inexplicable since this isn't director Eyre-Morgan's first film. It has its heart in the right place, but the project seems to have been assembled with little attention to detail.

In Manchester, Nate (Reese) is annoyed that his two younger sisters Sammy and Jay (Hamilton and Henry) need to move in with him. But his mother asked him to look after them before she died, so he wants to do the right thing. At the same time, he meets scruffy neighbour Jonny (Bransford) downstairs, who comes on rather strong, encouraging Nate to go for his dream of becoming a musician. As their friendship develops into a romance, Nate worries about what his sisters will think and refuses to categorise himself as "gay".

Despite some intriguing ideas in the script, the movie's technical quality is so rough that it's not easy to get involved in the story. Awkward staging, choppy editing, echoey sound recording, simplistic set designs and some frankly awful music make the film feel cheesier than a cheap soap opera. The story is painfully predictable, and there are elements in virtually every scene that reinforce the sense that this was made by nonprofessionals.

The lead actors are watchable even when delivering stilted dialog, although the supporting actors overplay their roles to such an extent that they feel like comedy sketch characters. Contrived plot points push everyone into implausibly corny situations, leading to various over-constructed misunderstandings and arguments. And the montage in which Nate's sisters try to set him up with all the women in a bar is particularly painful.

The film's strongest message centres on the dangers of taking care of everyone else at the expense of yourself. This is rather over-explained, while the plot's various points are badly over-punched. There may be a decent story lurking deep beneath the surface, but the simplistic production quality undermines everything with appalling lapses at every level of filmmaking. So even the solid, involving scenes end up feeling clunky. And in the end the movie's real value may be to encourage others to have a go at making a film themselves.

15 themes, language
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