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last update 30.Oct.16
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Burning Blue
dir DMW Greer
scr DMW Greer, Helene Kvale
prd Andrew Halliday, DMW Greer, Arthur J Kelleher
with Trent Ford, Morgan Spector, Rob Mayes, William Lee Scott, Michael Sirow, Tammy Blanchard, Cotter Smith, Michael Cumpsty, Mark Doherty, Chris Chalk, Tracy Weiler, Gwynneth Bensen
mayes, ford and spector
release US 6.Jun.14,
UK 7.Nov.16
13/US 1h36
Burning Blue Jarringly choppy filmmaking makes it tricky to follow this military drama. There's a strong story in here, even if the Don't Ask/Don't Tell premise makes the movie feel oddly dated. But that wouldn't be a problem if the film had some narrative clarity. Instead, it's a missed opportunity to say something meaningful about men and women whose lives have been destroyed by government-sanctioned fear and hatred.

In 2000, Navy pilots Dan and Will (Ford and Spector) are second-generation soldiers and best pals, hanging out together as they Will gets married and Dan gets engaged. They also go out carousing with their colleagues. Then an investigator (Sirow) arrives looking into their unit following a crash. And he has a secret agenda: to find proof of homosexual activity. Sure enough, Dan is secretly having a fling with married pilot Matt (Mayes). And while Dan is afraid to confess his feelings to Will, he has no idea he's the subject of a witch hunt.

The film has a punchy atmosphere, capturing the boyish camaraderie between the pilots as they head off on their missions. And it's quite shocking to see the investigator skulking around like a private eye snapping spy photos. But filmmaker Greer neglects to make much sense of the characters or situations, jumping around between people who aren't remotely defined and situations that are unclear due to incoherent editing. In fact, virtually every major event in the story is missing or under-explained.

When unknown actors all look alike, it's rather important to use names and personality distinctions so viewers can follow the story. But Greer doesn't bother, which leaves the audience perplexed from the start. The first clear romantic moment takes place a full hour in. Greer talks about how this is an autobiographical story, but his prudish direction undermines the important central theme, omitting not just the sex, but any real sense of emotion, passion or connection.

Even so, the actors deliver terrific performances that are packed with realistic details and suggestions that are so subtle that they're easily missed. So it's sad that they're not given the chance to play the most important scenes in the story, since Greer seems to be frightened to put the most raw or truthful material on the screen. What's left is an infuriatingly elusive movie that botches its storytelling and undermines its message by showing far more homophobia than love or compassion.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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The Darkest Dawn
dir Drew Casson
scr Jess Cleverly, Drew Casson
prd Miles Bullough, Jess Cleverly, Andy Mosse
with Bethan Leadley, Cherry Wallis, Drew Casson, Tom Scarlett, Sam Carter, Mark Cusack, Georgia Bradley, Stuart Ashen, Paul Neafcy, Jamie Paul, Mawaan Rizwan, Colin Murtagh
release UK 31.Oct.16
16/UK Wild Seed 1h16
The Darkest Dawn There's a clever idea at the centre of this British sci-fi horror, but the filmmakers haven't quite developed its full potential. Much of what happens feels rather trite, carefully constructed plot devices rather than an organic story. And the found-footage format is not only tired, but it's also deeply contrived. Even so, the film looks impressive, overcoming its low budget, and there are flashes of originality.

Chloe (Leadley) is a normal 16-year-old in suburban London, tormented by her older sister Sam (Ashen) as she videotapes everything. Then an alien invasion throws the nation into chaos. Chloe and Sam escape with the help of a stranger (Ashen), and their survival plan is soon overwhelmed by three interlopers: charismatic Cowen (Casson), intense Adam (Scarlett) and nerdy Kipper (Carter). They conveniently discover a map to a rendezvous point near Oxford so head off across country, eventually encountering Sarge (Cusack), a military meathead who pushes everyone around with his crew.

Ostensibly, Chloe is videotaping her adventure to show it to her mother, but she includes things no one would ever think to point a camera at. And when something happens to her, someone else continues shooting, miraculously never running out of memory or battery power. There are also signs that someone has edited the tape. But never mind, these movies rarely respect the format. Of course, this film would have been much stronger if it combined Chloe's video diary with more conventional shooting, because the production quality is strong.

The actors have a lively physicality that adds plenty of urgency. Leadley is especially good, although putting her behind the camera means she's often out of sight. Other cast members are a mixed bag, but all have moments of earthy grit. There's an almost comical rush to hyper-violence among the male characters, and there are loaded guns stashed everywhere, it seems, plus the requisite captured alien weapon.

Yes, every cliche is present in what's essentially a mash-up of Cloverfield and 28 Days Later. But viewers will enjoy interaction between the characters, and striking visual effects add a cool sense of scale. There's also an intriguing exploration of exactly how far you might be willing to go if your life and world where threatened. The filmmakers don't really grapple with this, but at least they raise the issue and let their characters struggle through situations in which doing the right thing probably feels wrong.

15 themes, language, violence
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Lazy Eye
dir-scr Tim Kirkman; prd Tim Kirkman, Todd Shotz
with Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Aaron Costa Ganis, Michaela Watkins, Drew Barr, Debbie Jaffe, Harrison Givens, Michael Rubenstone, Renee Willett, Simon Petrie
costa ganis and near-verbrugghe release US 11.Nov.16,
UK Nov.16 fringe
16/US 1h27

Lazy Eye Essentially a single extended conversation in an unusual setting, this film strikes an honest, introspective tone as two men try to make sense of where they were once, and where they are now. It's a simple premise that's beautifully written and directed to help the audience make intriguing connections between the characters and our own experiences.

In Los Angeles, graphic designer Dean (Near-Verbrugghe) is flustered when his doctor prescribes progressive lenses for his middle-age vision. And as he ponders ageing, he gets a message from long-ago summer lover Alex (Costa Ganis), who broke his heart. So he decides to drive out to his holiday home in the Joshua Tree desert to get some space. And against his better judgement, he invites Alex to visit. The old lust flares at their reunion, followed by picking through the truth about their relationship 15 years earlier, including the moment when Alex vanished.

The film is beautifully shot in the small Yucca Valley community, a bolt hole from the big city that's temporary for some and permanent for others. In this striking location, the dialog between Dean and Alex is astute and witty, slicing through a range of topics that cleverly reveal details about both men. There are also some sudden plot points along the way that feel a little forced, as well as a rather gratuitous extended flashback to their first meeting.

Near-Verbrugghe gives a nicely thoughtful turn as Dean, resonating strongly in the scenes in which he paces around alone, thinking about his life. Costa Ganis has a bold charisma that's mesmerising, adding a zing to the past and present interaction between these men. Together the actors spark some vivid chemistry and have an easy way with both physicality and conversation, like old friends who haven't seen each other for a long time. And there are intriguing echoes between who they were in flashbacks and who they are now.

The story develops like a stage play, with two men meeting up and slowly peeling back layers of feelings that have built up over 15 years. So the confessions and revelations continually shift their connection into new directions. There are intriguing echoes most viewers will readily identify with as the film explores the complexity of thoughts that blur the lines between our primal needs for desire, romance and security. And most movingly, the film explores how difficult it is to escape the lingering feeling that someone out there once loved you and maybe still does.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Ron and Laura Take Back America
dir-scr Mel England, Janice Markham
prd Gideon Markham, Tony Wandell, Jill Rothman, Lucas Camp, Kassi Crews, Paul Burchett
with Mel England, Janice Markham, Christiaan van Bremen, Jim J Bullock, Irene Bedard, Tony Sanders, Sheila Oaks, Stacey Wilson, Galicia Vaca Lopez, Alex Dawson, Bryan Bock, Sally Kirkland
markham and england release US 18.Mar.16,
UK 1.Nov.16
16/US 1h29
Ron and Laura Take Back America Made before before the Trump-Clinton campaign reached its nadir, this mock-documentary is eerily prescient about about the American electorate. Broad and silly, it makes some very strong points on a variety of topics. So it's smart and important, even if it feels like a Saturday Night Live sketch that goes on for 90 minutes.

Starting in 2010, Ron and Laura Grawsill (England and Markham) go to war against the "liberal agenda", organising a protest group at their Bakersfield church. Even though they don't have proper health insurance, and neither does Ron's senile mother (Oaks), they start by launching action against Affordable Care, carrying on even when their "buycott" inadvertently supports a flamboyant fashion designer (Bullock). Meanwhile, they're horrified that their son Brian (van Bremen) is studying to become a social-justice lawyer and seems unusually close to his new roommate (Sanders).

Shot like a homemade video documentary, this is a deadpan satire hilariously demonstrating the blinkered approach of true believers. Ron and Laura are furious that the TV news makes them look like idiots and they label people who speak common sense to them as nutcases. Ron and Laura may be difficult to like, but they're great characters. There's also of course the irony of their church's claims to promote openness, harmony and peace. Or that the Christians are more concerned with principles than people.

The cast beings serious improv skills to each encounter, with some riotously funny interaction. Every scene plays on two levels, playfully revealing hypocrisy and bigotry in every situation. Most of the targets here are rather obvious, but the cast play it cleverly, bringing out a range of important issues in scenes that are funny and painful at the same time ("Everybody has a right to their religious beliefs. Except Muslims. And gays who believe God made them that way").

As it goes along, a meta-plot emerges, springing out of Brian's properly nasty coming out, which begins to drive Ron around the bend. And it gets worse when their perky 2012 congressional candidate (Wilson) says she wants to "take America back" because "these homosexuals are going to burn in hell". With the ongoing campaign against the very health insurance they need, the film has strong things about the dangers of narrow-minded self-delusion. So it probably answers the question whether the people who need to get the message will get the joke.

15 themes, language
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