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last update 8.Jul.15
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Angels With Tethered Wings
dir-scr Steven Vasquez
prd Ryan Bauer, Cory Tyndall
with Cory Tyndall, Brandon Rife, Addison Graham, Trip Langley, Naiia Lajoie, Robby Valls, Cameron M Ellis, Andrew Vega, Joseph Haggerty, Grayson Gilbert, Ivan Bohman, Tammy Tolene
rife and graham release US 14.Apr.15,
UK 13.Jul.15
15/US 1h39

london film fest
Angels With Tethered Wings It almost feels like writer-director Vasquez made three different films with the same cast and then edited them together into a single story. But it refuses to hang together, mixing a porn-industry thriller with a bag-of-cash adventure and a zombie revenge comedy. The awkward structure makes it impossible to engage with, although it has its moments.

While porn producer Garret (Tyndall) owes a large sum of money to a gangster, his twin brother Grant (also Tyndall) is trying to rescue young porn-star Timothy (Rife), who quit to protest filming a scene with a cowboy financier (Langley). Now Garret's assistant (Lajoie), bodyguard (Vega) and film crew (Valls, Ellis and Gilbert) are looking for Timothy and his barman boyfriend Jessie (Graham). Farcical mayhem follows, during which most of these idiots are killed, but two come back to life to get revenge.

Everything unfurls out of sequence, as a series of random scenes and flashbacks that the audience struggles to put into logical order. It isn't easy, although by the end it almost hangs together (apart from some gaping plot-holes and dodgy filmmaking). What never quite makes sense are the wild swings in tone from slapstick to romance to moody melodrama. And Vasquez inserts random shots into every scene, severing even the most vaguely coherent connections. His writing, directing, camerawork and editing are simply bewildering.

Since it takes so long to come together, the characters are very difficult to engage with. And the stiff dialog defeats these inexperienced actors, most of whom are interchangeable waxed twinks. But there are some astonishing scenes, including a gratuitous spongebath played like an epic catharsis, a genuinely nasty sexual assault and some surprisingly subtext-laden conversations about relationships and porn. But the film's main purpose is achieved by getting all of the actors fully naked on-screen, even though there are only a couple of steamy sex scenes.

As the mayhem continues, it's a strain to work out where any scene fits into the chronology. The structure is so chaotically jumbled that there's no narrative momentum at all, especially when a sweetly romantic scene cuts suddenly to hideous violence and then to goofy physical comedy. So the big emotional finale feels almost ridiculous. Essentially, the only way to watch this is as a wacky spoof, which kind of allows us to go along with the relentlessly stupid plot, which sometimes feels like it will spiral in circles forever.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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dir-scr Sam Esmail
prd Lee Clay, Chad Hamilton, Scott G Stone
with Justin Long, Emmy Rossum, Eric Winter, Kayla Servi, Ben Scott, Lou Beatty Jr, Ben Pace, Nicole Lucas, Connie Jackson, Geoffrey Gould, Derrick Dean
rossum and long release US 5.Dec.14,
UK 3.Jul.15
14/US 1h31
Comet With an artful approach that often feels rather indulgent, filmmaker Esmail traces six years in a relationship by flickering around in time to catch the central couple in various stages of coming together and apart. Actors Long and Rossum make it watchable, even if the structure is a bit exhausting.

In a dream, Dell (Long) sees his entire relationship with Kimberly (Rossum) flash before his eyes, including a conversation they haven't had yet. So he relives each pivotal moment looking for signs, from their meeting at Hollywood Cemetery on the night of a meteor shower to a fateful coast-to-coast phone call, a trip to Paris for a friend's wedding and a reunion on a train. At every point, Dell is reluctant to make a life-long commitment, since he claims not to believe in love. But Kimberly knows better, and it only makes her mad.

Esmail creates a lushly visual style for each of the sequences, then directs the scenes with askance camera angles and offbeat editing that often put distance between Dell and Kimberly even in moments when they connect powerfully with each other. It's a strange effect, emphasising how tricky it is for people to come together in lasting relationships. And that's kind of undermined by Dell's continual insistence that they belong together for no real reason other than that he knows it's true.

Long is likeable and intense as the know-it-all Dell, a scientist whose mouth is too quick for his own good. But in between the rapid-fire conversations, Long offers flickers of emotional depth that are darkly resonant because we can see the longing mingled with fear. Because Kimberly has a bigger personality, Rossum is more wildly layered, veering from lively and messy to contained and reticent. In other words, she's a superbly alluring yet ultimately unknowable woman, and it's easy to see why Dell falls for her and loses her over and over again.

The fragmented structure isn't too much of a problem, since each of the intercut sequences builds the to an emotional punch at the same time, mixing happiness with sadness, lust and regret, hope and emptiness. As echoed in the dialog, the film's message seems to be that a relationship is like a painting: you look at all of it at the same time to get the full picture. It's a clever idea, even if the earnest attempts to create some sort of soaringly transcendent climax doesn't quite work.

15 themes, language
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Dear White People
dir-scr Justin Simien
prd Justin Simien, Effie Brown, Julia Lebedev, Angel Lopez, Ann Le, Lena Waithe
with Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson, Kyle Gallner, Teyonah Parris, Brandon Bell, Dennis Haysbert, Brittany Curran, Justin Dobies, Marque Richardson, Malcolm Barrett, Peter Syvertsen, Brandon Alter
williams release US 14.Oct.14,
UK 10.Jul.15
14/US 1h48

london film fest
flare film fest
Dear White People Almost too clever for its own good, this knowing comedy-drama juggles with cliches by placing parody within pastiche. Set in an American university, this sharply played film is populated by people trying to both fit into and rebel against racial, economic and sexuality stereotypes. It may be somewhat overpacked, but it's fiendishly clever and very funny.

At Winchester University, Lionel (Williams) can't seem to find a frat house he fits into, perhaps because they're all so thoroughly white. As a smart gay black guy, he only finds acceptance on the newspaper staff. Meanwhile, everyone is obsessed with who's going to lead Armstrong-Parker House, as the presidency is contested by popular media major Sam (Thompson), campaigning for more diversity. Her opponents are the super-cool presumptuous leader Troy (Bell) and the unthreatening wannabe Coco (Parris). And a variety of counterplots and conspiracies are set to boil over at a racially charged Halloween party.

Writer-director Simien throws a bunch of inter-connected people into a wildly entangled plot. This is smart, witty, ruthlessly stylish filmmaking that gleefully heightens characters and situations for satirical effect, as spicy dialog adds layers of meaning to the complex web of plot threads. It's sometimes tricky to keep up with all of the flirting and colluding, but every moment is thoroughly entertaining. And the film is packed with running gags that tackle racism with a knowing smirk.

The actors all manage a tricky balancing act, creating realistic, textured characters within the arch setting. All of them are tired of being used to advance someone's agenda. Intriguingly, no one emerges as good or bad, as these are realistic petty rivalries that pit one viewpoint against another, both individually and in groups. And only some characters manage to see beyond the surface, such as Dobies' Gabe, who breaks through Sam's carefully constructed persona.

Simien is astutely pointing out the deep-seated racism in American culture, picking up on subtleties that most filmmakers are unwilling to address. As Barrett's reality TV guy says, "It turns out about the only thing Americans love in their reality TV more than ignorant black kids is crazy racist white folk!" Simien's key thesis is that there's an important difference between holding up a mirror to a situation and hitting someone over the head with the facts. And in the closing credits he shows that maybe his hilarious movie isn't as fictional as it seems.

15 themes, language, drugs
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51 Degrees North
dir-scr Grigorij Richters
prd David Jermyn, Grigorij Richters, Alexander Souabni
with Moritz von Zeddelmann, Steven Cree, Steve Nallon, Dolly-Ann Osterloh, Jamie Doyle, Adam Jackson-Smith, Stuart Clark, Richard Crowther, Michael Smith, Lewis Dartnell, Jay Tate, Mark Price
von zeddelmann release UK 3.Jul.15
15/UK 1h28
51 Degrees North Skilfully shot and assembled, this low-budget British sci-fi thriller takes an inventive approach to the found-footage genre, including some clever guerrilla filmmaking. The plot is over-fragmented, and there are gaps in the logic, but the inclusion of documentary footage of real asteroid experts adds weight. As do several layers of resonant themes.

Seen in retrospect after the destruction of humanity, this is a collection of footage featuring Damon (von Zeddelmann), who achieved fame with his vlog about the possibility of an asteroid strike. As he and his sidekick Michael (Cree) travel around Britain interviewing experts, they become increasingly obsessed with the fact that 99 percent of asteroids hit Earth without warning. Then an expert (Nallon) tells Damon that an unusually large asteroid has been knocked off course and is heading toward Europe. Suddenly, Damon is co-opted by the UK Space Agency to document the impact.

Narrated by Damon's son Light (Jackson-Smith), the footage is fragmented to give hints about what is coming, such as an early comment that Damon's pregnant girlfriend Ann (Osterloh) is travelling into space to escape certain doom. But this fragmentation makes it tricky to get into the story, as it judders around annoyingly. Eventually as the story begins to come into focus, these disparate elements do begin to come together meaningfully, letting writer-director Richters build some riveting momentum in the final act.

He also creates a superbly haunting tone, augmented by Brian May's coolly ambient score. Still, some elements make no sense: the story is filled in by CCTV and satellite cameras, so why did Damon need to stay back to film the impact? And how can Light have a working computer while saying there are no more cameras? Still, Richters has a terrific visual eye, assembling the material with whizzy touches that are sometimes breathtakingly inventive. And the loose, intimate narrative has a strikingly emotional conclusion, accompanied by a stunning panoramic image.

For a small-budget film, there are some impressive sequences, including a remarkable set-piece involving a huge crowd in Piccadilly Circus. Performances are so natural that no one seems to be acting at all, sharply revealing complex inter-relationships with raw emotion and off-handed wit. And there are all kinds of layers of interest here, including a look at struggling filmmakers and the earth-shattering impacts of both an asteroid and impending parenthood. But most urgent is the striking parallel with government inaction on today's most obvious threat, climate change.

15 themes, language, violence
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