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last update 17.Oct.16
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The Pass
dir Ben A Williams
scr John Donnelly
prd Duncan Kenworthy
with Russell Tovey, Arinze Kene, Lisa McGrillis, Nico Mirallegro, Rory J Saper
tovey and kene release UK 9.Dec.16
16/UK 1h28

bfi flare
London film fest
The Pass A strikingly insightful exploration of the constraints of celebrity, this adaptation of John Donnelly's play retains its theatrical stylings, setting the action among four characters in three scenes over 10 years. But it's refreshingly complex, constantly challenging audience expectations and attitudes. And it's hugely boosted by a charismatic performance from Russell Tovey.

As teens just starting their professional football careers, Jason and Ade (Tovey and Kene) have been friends for a decade and are sharing a hotel room in Bucharest on match night. Their banter pushes and challenges each other, with macho swagger obscuring a deep affection. Five years later, Jason is in a London hotel room with lap-dancer Lyndsey (McGrillis). He doesn't care that this may fuel rumours about his collapsing marriage; he just wants to quash stories about his sexuality. Then five years later in Manchester, Jason reunites with Ade and a hapless bellboy (Mirallegro).

With dialog so packed with serious issues, the film could have collapsed under the weight of its ambitions, but director Williams and the cast maintain a superbly offhanded attitude, giving each scene a slightly out-of-control tone as the characters playfully poke and prod each other. The banter is insinuating and sharply pointed (everything hinges on a pivotal pass during a key match), but it's thrown around as if even the person who's speaking doesn't quite understand the weight of his or her words. Which makes it easy to identify with each character.

Tovey holds the film together with a superbly transparent, brittle performance. Jason knows exactly how he feels but is unable to express it due to the combination of his Englishness and the expectations of being a manly sports star. He's also ruthlessly ambitious, believing that all of this fame and fortune is worth the ongoing self-deception. The push and pull of his interaction with Kene is riveting. As the themes boil over, the script's final scene is a bit too on-the-nose, but both actors find raw emotion that makes it powerfully moving.

intriguingly, Kene and McGrillis are playing people who are far more willing to admit the truth about themselves. They're both fascinating, and add a lively energy that offers hints about their characters' busy lives beyond the frames of this movie. And Mirallegro has a very strong impact in his brief scene, adding a pungent sense of how the fans are complicit in this toxic culture of false bravado, accepted bigotry and utterly fake goals.

15 themes, language, innuendo
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dir-scr Alice Lowe
prd Jennifer Handorf, Will Kane, Vaughan Sivell
with Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Kate Dickie, Kayvan Novak, Mike Wozniak, Tom Davis, Dan Renton Skinner, Gemma Whelan, Leila Hoffman, Marc Bessant, Tom Meeten, Della Moon Synnott
lowe release UK Oct.16 lff
16/UK 1h28

Venice film fest
London film fest
Prevenge Call this a serial killer movie from the heart. With her debut feature as director, Alice Lowe creates a rare black comedy that makes the audience complicit with murder. But even more than a riotous rampage of grisliness, this is an emotionally resonant exploration of the innate craziness of pregnancy, vividly capturing that feeling that an alien creature is living inside, taking over your life.

Ruth (Lowe) is pregnant and her boyfriend Matt (Bessant) is dead. And someone needs to pay. The voice of her unborn daughter gives her the idea: get rid of everyone who's to blame for her predicament, from creepy-crawly shopkeeper Zabek (Skinner) to slimy 80s deejay Dan (Davis). And she's only getting started. Her midwife (Hartley) is noticing some rather odd behaviour, but then most expectant mothers aren't terribly rational. And as the body-count grows, Ruth starts to have doubts about everything, zeroing in on the climbing instructor (Novak) who was with Matt when he died.

That Ruth lays all of her own grief and annoyances on her impending child is one of the movie's many salient points. This is a woman for whom the future looks both exciting and terrifying at the same time, so perhaps a bit of cleansing of the past is in order. And it's certainly understandable that the constant insults and patronising comments from others could send anyone on a murder spree.

The way Lowe acts, writes and directs walks an uncanny tightrope between morbid farce and warm drama. Some audiences may pale at the sight of a woman so heavily with child wielding a knife with such brutal accuracy. But Lowe tells this story with a knowing wink and unflinching honesty about the attitudes pregnant women face every day. She also refuses to take any cheap shots, focussing on the more complex aspects of a society in which everyone seems to have forgotten that this is how they started life too.

All of this is exaggerated, but not without reason. Lowe's masterstroke is to keep Ruth likeable even at her worst, so the audience becomes protective of her in ways we perhaps aren't to pregnant women around us. In other words, while it's hugely entertaining, and even rather gleefully bonkers, the film is also having an effect on the viewer. Lowe is offering everyone a glimpse into a mother's perspective of childbirth, and she does it with a warm grim and the flash of steel.

15 themes, language, violence, innuendo
1.Sep.16 vff
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Selling Isobel
dir Rudolf Buitendach
scr Glynn Turner
prd Frida Farrell, Glynn Turner
with Frida Farrell, Gabriel Olds, Matthew Marsden, Lew Temple, Amber Benson, Stelio Savante, Alyson Stoner, Samantha Esteban, Farrah Mackenzie, Oscar Best, Frank Arend, Art Hsu
release UK Sep.16 rff
16/US 1h51

Selling Isobel Based on the experiences of actress-writer Frida Farrell, who was kidnapped and sex-trafficked in London, this film tells a nightmarish story that isn't easy to watch. The material is so strong that it's easy to ignore the somewhat simplistic production values, with thin characters, too-bright photography and a generic score. But it highlights a very real issue.

Gym instructor Isobel (Farrell) is a single mum with a young daughter (Mackenzie) and a loving boyfriend, Mark (Marsden). Then one day in a cafe, the charming photographer Peter (Olds) asks her to do some modelling. Isobel is reluctant, but gives it a go. Peter's assistant (Benson) puts her at ease. But when she returns, Peter turns nasty. After being drugged, she wakes up to her new life as a sex slave. Peter promises that she'll be freed if she cooperates. But Isobel doesn't believe him, and never gives up trying to escape.

This is such a harrowing story that a grittier approach would have made it almost unbearable for the audience. It's bad enough as is, even though the slightly cheesy direction adds some distance from reality. Performances are also somewhat heightened, with big emotions and a clear delineation between good and evil. Farrell gives a wrenching turn as a woman who is brutally dragged from her life into pure hell. It's a full-on role that's understandably controlled both physically and emotionally.

The twists and turns of the story are genuinely upsetting, especially as Olds' Peter maintains his hyper-reasonable approach amid the most vile brutality. Isobel's helplessness is vivid, as she desperately seeks a way out of her imprisonment. As it goes on, the general cheapness of the filmmaking begins to feel repetitive and at times exploitative. Although in some ways, this enhances the depiction of the general trashiness of lowlife scumbags who treat women like this, both the captors and the clients.

That these kinds of scenarios are all too real is utterly horrific. And since the glossy filmmaking style keeps its distance from earthy authenticity, the story is able to reach a wider audience. But of course the most impressive aspect of this film is Farrell's intensely personal desire to raise awareness of this situation. The fact is that there are more slaves on earth now that at the height of the African slave trade. And clearly we need to be much louder in demanding that our leaders do more to stop it.

15 themes, language, violence
3.Oct.16 rff
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dir-scr Ryan Gregory Phillips
prd Anthony Mancilla, Ryan Gregory Phillips
with Juanita Ringeling, Cristobal Tapia Montt, Kyle Davis, Jay Ellis, Nina Senicar, Sara Malakul Lane, Tina Feliciano, Kelly FitzGerald, Santwon McCray, Mick Ignis, Sam Waldbaum, Erin Raemen
release US Jun.16 dwff,
UK Sep.16 rff
16/US 1h25

Shortwave This psychological thriller is artfully shot to fill each scene with hints of big ideas buried within it. But the characters are sketchy, and long sequences pass in which it's unclear what's happening. Filmmaker Ryan Gregory Phillips makes everything look cool, but there isn't a hint of interest or suspense, because there doesn't seem to be anything under the over-serious surface.

Two years after their daughter disappeared, Isabel (Ringeling) is still on medication. And Josh (Montt) is struggling to continue his work with his colleague Thomas (Davis), trying to isolate shortwave radio signals from space. As their research yields results, Isabel begins to be consumed by feelings that something nefarious is going on, and that their daughter is lurking in a parallel dimension. Even though she's clearly nuts, Josh and Thomas agree to test how these signals might be triggering her suppressed memories. Or something much more dangerous.

The film opens with a series of scenes that clearly mean something, but feel frustratingly random without context. And filmmaker Phillips continues in this vein, strikingly photographing each moment while drawing out muted, naturalistic performances. But it's far too elusive, little more than gimmicky movie tricks that stubbornly refuse to connect. The scientific explanations also sound like little more than "blah blah blah" to most viewers. And by leaving Ringeling in a perpetual state of undress, Phillips' direction feels more leery than freaky.

Ringeling and Montt are solid, although both are so shellshocked that their relationship never quite makes sense. As details emerge, the actors generate some sympathy, even if there isn't a single a moment that isn't bursting with heightened emotion. Ringeling is put through a series of wrenching sequences that require her to run, scream and panic, often in awkward spaces. These trips into her subconscious seem designed as an Inception-like odyssey, but they never quite make a meaningful connection.

Instead, Phillips ramps up everything with emotional music and frantic editing, plus selective blurring of the imagery, rather than letting the actors reveal their characters organically. The horror elements are so over-the-top that they feel merely like delusions in Isabel's troubled mind. Because if they're real, they're far too appallingly contrived, especially as things escalate to a grotesquely indulgent climax. Each of these swirling, largely wordless sequences is jarringly incoherent, and there are so many of them that it feels like the script was probably written for a 10-minute short.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
28.Sep.16 rff
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