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last update 21.Jun.15
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Everyone’s Going to Die
dir-scr Jones
prd Kelly Broad, Jones
with Nora Tschirner, Rob Knighton, Kellie Shirley, Madeline Duggan, Stirling Gallacher, Liberty Selby, Eliza Harrison-Dine, Sol Heras, Ellie Chidzey, Kylie Hutchinson, Jamie Chung, Brett Goldstein
tschirner and knighton
release US Mar.13 sxsw,
UK 26.Jun.15
13/UK 1h23

edinburgh film fest
Everyone's Going to Die With a low-key, snarky attitude, this underpowered British drama was made by a collective that goes by the name of Jones. Its meandering plot and improvised style sit cleverly alongside a quirky tale of two very different people who connect while they're at turning points in their lives. But the film strains to make a meaningful link between any of its scenes or characters.

In a Folkestone cafe, Melanie (Tschirner) is trying to call her elusive workaholic fiance Richard (Goldstein) when a stranger, Ray (Knighton), pays for her coffee. He's on his way to pay respects to his brother's grave, and his black suit is all he has left after his ex furiously shredded his clothes. When Melanie runs into Ray again, she accompanies him to visit his widowed sister-in-law Jackie (Gallacher), whose kids (Duggan and Harrison-Dine) are rehearsing a morose play called Everyone's Going to Die. And as Ray and Melanie begin to bond, he proposes an escape.

The filmmakers take an achingly cool approach that's minimalistic and obtuse, offering virtually no information about the characters but plenty of details and gags that don't mean anything. It looks great, sharply shot and edited with an offbeat song score. But much of the dialog is muttered. And scenes get increasingly nutty: Jackie is convinced her husband has come back as a cat; Ray accidentally shoots the cat and runs over a dog; Melanie gets a job as roller-skating waitress at a restaurant called Beaver's.

To maintain the dryly comical tone, performances are expressionless and bereft of energy. The actors inject plenty of wry humour, but the relationships and connections remain unclear because the dialog consists largely of monosyllabic sounds and rambling anecdotes that offer some insight into the characters but have little relevance. At least Tschirner has a bit of spark as Melanie, who feels like a failure in her family. The deadpan Ray doesn't even know his.

While the actors nod at deeper meanings, the writing and directing never quite scratch the surface. There are serious issues gurgling around, like enduring a bad marriage or correcting past mistakes, but the narrative is so underpowered that there are very few points where we can engage with anyone. So aside from a few intriguing conversations and some witty filmmaking, everything feels starkly superficial. Especially when the movie strains for emotions with indulgent musical montages.

15 themes, language
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London Road
dir Rufus Norris
prd Dixie Linder
scr Alecky Blythe, Adam Cork
with Olivia Colman, Tom Hardy, Paul Thornley, Anita Dobson, Howard Ward, Michael Shaeffer, Claire Moore, Rosalie Craig, Anna Hale, Kate Fleetwood, James Doherty, Jenny Galloway
colman leads the charge
release UK 12.Jun.15
15/UK BBC 1h32
London Road There's plenty of bold invention in this offbeat drama, which blends both documentary and musical elements to explore the impact of a crime on a local community. A hit on the stage, the artificiality of the approach sits at odds with the gritty filmmaking style, but it still carries a potent emotional punch. And the actors are excellent.

In 2006, five prostitutes were killed near London Road in a previously quiet corner of Ipswich. The neighbours find themselves having mixed emotions about this, because the streetwalkers were such a nuisance. But the killer is still on the loose, and everyone is terrified. Then one of the street's resident's is arrested by the cops and suddenly the horror becomes far too close to home. So Julie (Colman) suggests a few ideas to bring back a sense of ownership of their road, including a summer garden competition and party.

The story is told through the actual words of the residents, recreated by the actors in dialog and song. It's such an unusual way to recount a real-life event that it creates an artificial barrier with the audience. But the first major number is a strong one, as the whole town joins in the music and choreography in a Christmas market, conveying a terrific sense of collective paranoia and suspicion. Several other scenes are just as powerful, including a wrenching number performed by the prostitutes.

At the centre, Colman delivers another startlingly realistic performance, effortlessly combining comedy and drama in a way that almost makes us forget that she's singing most of her lines. The other central character is Thornley's Dodge, a neighbour who internalises his feelings about the events. Hardy has an effective sequence as a taxi driver who makes himself a suspect with his too-honest patter. And there's also a terrific role for Shaeffer as a news reporter struggling to convey the story.

Everything is held together by Norris' fiercely astute direction, which catches all kinds of earthy details even within the heightened production design. But it's the songs by Blythe and Cork that set this film apart, with stuttering lines that repeat the blindingly obvious while offering insight into a group of neighbours who feel like their life has been turned upside down. Even so, it's more intriguing and sometimes moving than actually insightful, never quite cracking through that great British repression to find something more resonant.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Those People
dir-scr Joey Kuhn
prd Kimberly Parker, Joey Kuhn, Sarah Bremner
with Jonathan Gordon, Jason Ralph, Haaz Sleiman, Britt Lower, Chris Conroy, Meghann Fahy, Allison Mackie, Daniel Gerroll, Max Jenkins, Tamara Torres, Stephen Gevedon, Bill Dietrich
gordon and ralph release US Jun.15 fff
15/US 1h29

Those People With his first feature, filmmaker Kuhn brings a lot of energetic style to a strongly emotional story. It's beautifully shot and edited, and told with a smug, pretentious attitude that echoes in the characters themselves. Although since this is about people afraid to express their feelings, the connections between them feel rather artificial.

In Manhattan, theatre geek Charlie (Gordon) loves having Gilbert & Sullivan duels with his posh pal Sebastian (Ralph), a lonely celebrity heir. An art student, Charlie accepts Sebastian's invitation to move into his penthouse to keep him company, even though their friends (Lower, Conroy and Fahy) think it's a terrible idea. Because they know Charlie has a pointless crush on Sebastian. Finally realising that he needs to strike out on his own, Charlie starts seeing pianist Tim (Sleiman). But they face obstacles in Charlie's unresolved feelings, Sebastian's petulance and Tim's job offer in San Francisco.

All of these characters are hotheads who overreact to everything that happens. Brash and pushy, the only likeable one is Charlie, mainly because the puppy-dog cute Gordon brings out a shy, sensitive side that makes us root for Charlie to find himself. But Ralph's Sebastian is impossible to care about: panicky, controlling and emotionally crippled. By contrast, Sleiman's Tim is almost too idealised as the mature man who helps Charlie emerge from his prison, although even he engages in uneven emotional messiness.

Watching these people continually insult each other and storm off when they don't get their way is rather exhausting. And everything about the film is evasive, from the obtuse, mannered dialog to the sketchy character details. There are moments of bracing insight, such as when Sebastian blurts, "If you stop loving me you'll realise what a terrible person I am." But while the film could have been a sharp exploration of the tensions between two gay friends, it's diverted by Sebastian's constant demand to be the centre of attention.

Still, this is a rare film that tackles the strain between gay men and their fathers, as each of the three central guys have serious daddy issues. Although this perhaps tells us more about the filmmaker than it does about the characters. Kuhn is a gifted writer and director, and now that he has this overworked drama out of his system, it'll be fascinating to see what he comes up with next.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Unhallowed Ground
dir Russell England
scr Paul Raschid; prd Neville Raschid
with Marcus Griffiths, Paul Raschid, Thomas Law, Poppy Drayton, Morgane Polanski, Rachel Petladwala, Will Thorp, Ameet Chana, Andrew Lewis, Richard Derrington, Gil Cohen-Alloro, Patrick Padget
griffiths and polanski release UK 12.Jun.15
15/UK 1h37
Unhallowed Ground A triple-whammy approach makes this low-budget British horror thriller quite a lot of fun, especially since there's a gleefully cheesy edge to all of the nefarious goings-on. Despite the layered plot, the film is somewhat simplistic and underdeveloped, but it's packed with superb freak-out moments played nicely by a fresh-faced cast.

At a boy's school in the English countryside, the posh students have left for the school holidays while military trainees Danny, Rish and Aki (Law, Raschid and Griffiths) stick around for training exercises with visiting female cadets Verity, Meenah and Sophie (Drayton, Petladwala and Polanski), overseen by tough-talking Dr Carmichael (Lewis). But they don't know that cat-burglars Jazz and Shane (Chana and Thorp) are breaking into the archive tonight. And it's also the anniversary of a fateful tragedy during the 1665 plague epidemic, which means that there are also some angry ghosts on the prowl.

Director England and writer-actor Raschid establish all of these characters quickly and efficiently, giving each one an unusual complexity to go along with their one key personality trait. There are also various relationship issues between them that add to the mayhem, with various rivalries and some lusty attraction. Although since all of them get virtually the same screen time, no one really stands out. The only memorable characters are Aki and Shane, simply because both are thoughtless jerks.

All of the actors are solid, adding plenty of attitude and snappy wit. Together, the ensemble has lots of texture , especially as the story gets increasingly messy, including some seriously gruesome turns that are unnecessarily brutal. There are pranks, flirtation, alcohol-fuelled partying, creepy stories about past events, flashbacks to the 17th century Black Death, and of course a growing number of fatalities. Meanwhile, the lurking ghosts add plenty of malevolence. Accompanying all of this is an overactive sound mix that pushes each vaguely scary element over-the-top, even if much of the nastiness remains off-screen.

The filmmakers' inexperience shows in the story's cliched structure and some awkward editing that leaves most scenes feeling a bit random. But they have a great time building suspense by hinting at all kinds of grisly possibilities while indulging in red herrings and devilish plot twists. There's also a somewhat half-hearted attempt to insert a serious point about today's plague, greed. But the unsettling jolts are superbly played, so fans will enjoy the way everything becomes increasingly insane.

15 themes, language, violence
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