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last update 19.Apr.15
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dir-scr Duane Hopkins
prd Samm Haillay
with George MacKay, Benjamin Dilloway, Charlotte Spencer, Lara Peake, Anton Saunders, Matt Cross, Chanel Cresswell, Donald Sumpter, Arabella Arnott, Scott McGrath, Barry Ward, Arun Krishna
it follows release UK 10.Apr.15
14/UK 1h46

london film fest
Bypass With a dark, moody tone and an extremely internalised perspective, this film gets under the skin simply because it's so tightly focussed on one character, beautifully played by young British actor MacKay. Even so, the narrative sometimes lets him down, leaving key details unexplained while earnest writer-director Hopkins never quite catches the offhanded humour that would ground the film in real life.

With an absent dad (McGrath) and dead mum (Arnott) distant memories, and his older brother Greg (Dilloway) in prison, Tim (MacKay) has to step up to care for his surly teen sister Helen (Peake). Barely out of his teens himself, he cautiously follows his brother's lead into a life of petty crime. With bailiffs trying to collect unpaid debts, his boss pushing him into more dangerous jobs and his girlfriend (Spencer) expecting a baby, Tim is driven to increasing acts of desperation. And he's ignoring the fact that there's something seriously wrong with his health.

Writer-director Hopkins mixes moody closeups, frenetic hand-held action and slow-motion with out-of-sync sound and a mournful score. This creates a deliberately elusive narrative that's fiercely evocative. It's sometimes frustrating to be thrown off by a dreamy flickering flashback or an incomplete medical diagnosis, but all of this adds to Tim's sense of desperation. As does the fact that social services really needs to step in here, but seems to think Tim is just fine.

Hopkins' vaguely incomplete storytelling is anchored by strongly naturalistic performances. MacKay is magnetic as a teen trying to hold his family together against the odds, unsure where to turn next. He's clearly aware of how precarious everything is, terrified of what might happen next, so it's unnerving to watch as desperation erodes his caution, leading this smart kid to make some bad decisions. And as he ignores the health warnings, everything becomes even more intense.

This is an unusual look at the cycle of grief, poverty and crime. It's perhaps a bit forced but, even without any light relief, the raw humanity along the way helps it resonate strongly through various relationships including the complex romance. So we stick with Tim even when he starts making uncharacteristically rash choices that only ask for more trouble. For example, anyone who has seen a movie knows not to keep their stash of cash in a random box. But because he's so well-played by MacKay, we almost understand him. Which forces us to see ourselves up there too.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Helicopter Mom
dir Salome Breziner
scr Duke Tran
prd Salome Breziner, JMR Luna, Stephen Israel
with Nia Vardalos, Jason Dolley, Mark Boone Junior, Skyler Samuels, Devon Werkheiser, Kate Flannery, Gillian Vigman, Lisa Loeb, Leila Leigh, Jill Remez, Richard Strauss, Scott Shilstone
samuels, dolley and vardalos release US 24.Apr.15
15/US 1h21
Helicopter Mom Bright and silly, this comedy of awkwardness has some nice points to make but simply can't resist going for the cheapest laugh. This not only makes it painfully corny, but it leaves a decent cast playing people who are difficult to root for. So even if the plot and themes are strong, the characters merely feel like parodies of real people.

Single mother Maggie (Vardalos) buzzes like a police helicopter around her 17-year-old son Lloyd (Dolley). She micro-manages his life and worries about how she'll pay his university fees, thinking he'd stand out more for a scholarship if he was gay. So she starts hoping that he is, urging his biker dad Max (Boone) to push him in that direction. She also joins the PTA and starts meddling in his prom. Through all of this, she's utterly oblivious to the fact that Lloyd is still working out who he is and who he's attracted to.

Thankfully, Dolley nicely underplays Lloyd as a sensible kid who hasn't even found someone he wants to kiss yet. So his busybody mother just makes everything more awkward. Vardalos isn't bad as Maggie, but the character is simply ghastly, a pushy over-talker with no limits and no sense. She's basically an ill-conceived sitcom character. Boone has a much more complex role, and his scenes with Dolley are the best in the film. Dolley also has a nice connection with Samuels, as the hot girl tired of hanging out with jerks.

Yes, in between the idiocy involving Maggie, there are some intriguing things happening. Screenwriter Tran plays cleverly with gay cliches, even daring to introduce a character who's stereotypically queeny and fashion conscious, everything Lloyd isn't but people expect him to be. This is a fine line, but the filmmakers just keep this balance right, even if they fail completely with Lloyd's monster of a mother.

The other thing that works is Lloyd's ambiguity about himself. "Why does everyone have to put a label on me?" he asks. "Can I just be undeclared?" Movies rarely have the nerve to admit that these things aren't cut and dried. And his father wisely says, "You're going to be fine, do it at your own pace." So while the selfish, destructive Maggie carries on, Lloyd just gets on with his own journey. And even if it's overstated and predictable, the inanity doesn't quite drown out the important message.

12 themes, language, innuendo
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The Last Five Years
dir-scr Richard LaGravenese
prd Janet Brenner, Kurt Deutsch, Richard LaGravenese, Lauren Versel
with Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan, Natalie Knepp, Marceline Hugot, Nic Novicki, Rafael Sardina, Bettina Bresnan, Charly Bivona, Lisa Herring, Tamara Mintz, Alex Stebbins, Nina Ordman
jordan and kendrick release US 13.Feb.15,
UK 17.Apr.15
14/US 1h34

The Last Five Years Based on Jason Robert Brown's stage musical, this is an introspective look at a five-year romance through the conflicting perspectives of a young man and woman. It's thoughtful, observant and often quite moving, although the material's raw power sometimes feels diluted by the out-of-sequence structure, which makes the arc of a relationship feel oddly repetitive.

Cathy (Kendrick) is an aspiring actress who falls in love with wannabe novelist Jamie (Jordan). They get married and rent a flat in Manhattan, pursuing their dreams. As his first book becomes a bestseller, she struggles to find work, relying on summer stock performances in Ohio while he goes from one flashy party to another. Problems come along as she resents his success, so his encouragement begins to feel patronising. And as they grow apart, these issues only seem to become insurmountable.

The film is structured as a series of songs with only the odd moment of spoken dialog. And most of the numbers are solos, alternating between Cathy and Jamie, cheery and hurting, triumphant and angry. A couple of numbers are performed as rousing duets, including the proposal-wedding sequence and the moving finale. Although all of this plays out in a seemingly random order, jumping back and forth through their five years together.

LaGravenese takes a wonderfully cinematic approach to the material, using the camera beautifully to reveal surprises in almost every scene, including the truth behind the words. Of course, this wouldn't work if Kendrick and Jordan didn't offer fully formed performances that bristle with an inner life. It's easy to see why these smiley, gorgeous people fell for each other, but it's the way they reveal their own expectations and inner doubts that continually catches the audience off guard, both through the expressive, fresh lyrics and the things they neglect to say.

But by fragmenting the narrative, the flow of this deeply personal love story feels reduced to a jarring series of highs and lows, while the only thing that sets the songs apart are whether they're happy or sad. Which makes everything feel a bit sanitised and staged. By the time the final number rolls around, we've learned to identify each sequence quickly for its position in the sequence and it's emotional level, so the complexity of the closing song is almost lost on us. But there are so many astute observations along the way that the whole film can't help but echo in our memory.

12 themes, language, innuendo
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Undocumented Executive
dir-scr Brian Kosisky
prd Brian Kosisky, Joy Kosisky, Tony Guerrero
with Tony Guerrero, Melissa Ponzio, Clayton Landey, Mark Oliver, Doris Morgado, Candace Mabry, Leland Jones, Kenny Alfonso, Andrew Masset, Ashlee Heath, Justin Greer, Mike Whaley
ponzio and guerrero release US 30.Mar.15
15/US 1h35
Undocumented Executive This corny comedy makes up for its low-budget production values with a lively cast and some big themes. But it never quite transcends its handmade vibe, using witty observations to hold the audience's interest as it feebly attemped to merge the immigration issue with a gentle relationship comedy and zany caper overtones.

Jaqi (Guerrero) travels from Mexico to join his sister Rosa (Morgado), a maid and has found him a job as a painter. But on his first day, he mistakenly interviews for a controller job at a technology company. And he's hired because he's the perfect fall guy for the bosses Ken and Dennis (Landey and Oliver), given the executive office and an assistant, Anita (Ponzio), who really should have had the job herself. When Jaqi discovers Ken and Dennis' dodgy dealings, he teams up with with Anita and Rosa to sort out the mess.

Despite the subject matter, there isn't any edge to this story. Everything is played in the lightest possible way, taking a fluffy-silly approach to the corruption while playing up the illegal alien gag for all it's worth. This includes a lot of underpowered slapstick, a half-baked romantic comedy subplot, a continual stream of cheap gags and lots of improbable plot points. But the simplistic approach actually helps make it more enjoyable, creating likeable characters even if they're all rather ill-defined.

Most of these people are relatively realistic. Guerrero's Jaqi may be far too naive and flat-out stupid, but he's charming. And he also learns quite a bit as he goes along, so by the end we can almost root for him to find some sort of romance with Ponzio's Anita, easily the film's most relatable character. By contrast, Morgado's Rosa is shrill and harsh, always expecting the worst for no real reason. While Landey and Oliver play goofy villains who are also casually racist and sexist.

More intriguing is how the film finds comedy in in the ways stupid locals treat their immigrant employees, assuming they are thieves. And how corporate culture values loyalty above ethics, skill and experience. Writer-director Kosisky never quite generates the momentum needed to make the final act pay off after all of the ridiculous twists and turns along the way. But it's just about enough to keep us smiling.

PG themes, language, innuendo
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